1946-2014Passionate violinist, educator and birder
If one were to meet Mark Sokol, one would immediately feel the power of his energy (like an electric transformer) and a commitment to pursue his passion with every fiber of his being. Beethoven is quoted as saying, "Don't only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to the divine." Sokol might have written that credo himself as he launched into every project – be it in music, birding, or sports- with total passion and enthusiasm. Mark heard his first string quartet concert at Tanglewood when he was a month old (the Juilliard Quartet's first Bartok cycle at Tanglewood), studied the violin with his father from age five, started playing string quartets as soon as possible and tackled his first Beethoven quartet at age nine. He played quartets throughout high school and into studies at the University of Washington before attending the Juilliard School in New York, violin lessons with Dorothy Delay, and chamber music with Robert Mann. He enlisted during the Vietnam War, serving in the United States Military Academy Band at West Point from 1967 to 1970. There he created the first-ever military string quartet as a substitute for piccolo playing at reveille at 4:30am. This USMA String Quartet traveled the country and concluded its service with a critically acclaimed concert at Carnegie Hall. From 1970 to 1971 he was a violinist with the Creative Associates at SUNY Buffalo specializing in the performance of new music under the direction of Lukas Foss.
In 1971, with violinist Andrew Jennings, violist John Kochanowski, and cellist Norman Fischer, Sokol founded the Concord String Quartet which captivated audiences throughout the United States, Europe, and Africa. They specialized initially in contemporary music but quickly became exponents of all quartet styles, especially cycles of the complete quartets of Bartok (18 cycles) and Beethoven (36). In a career spanning over 1000 concerts they won a Naumburg Chamber Music Award, an Emmy Award, and two Grammy Award nominations. The quartet members were artists-in-residence at Dartmouth College (Hanover, NH) from 1974 until they disbanded in 1987. The quartet was famous not only for the repertoire they played but also for the style with which they performed. One critic called them a "wild, driving quartet" while another review ran the headline "Concord Quartet shows Moxie." Later the energy was less external and more palpably internal as they performed for every major concert series and turned their uncompromising attitude to the compositional forces at play in premieres of more than 50 works and in over 40 recordings of new and traditional repertoire.
After the quartet disbanded Sokol moved to Sebastopol California and began teaching at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music as chair of the chamber music department. Students remember the force of his intense and committed teaching style. Concurrently he spent many summers teaching at the Tanglewood Music Center (Lenox MA) and Kneisel Hall Chamber Music School (Blue Hill ME). One student remembered a phrase from his teaching, "You wanna play Beethoven? Just remember you can't climb Mt. Everest in sneakers." In the course of 24 years teaching at SFCM he pressed, cajoled, persuaded, and congratulated students as they found their own voices in facing the music of the past and present. Mark was a beacon to light their way. Generations of students have honed their craft under Mark Sokol's direction including the Telegraph Quartet that won the most recent Fischoff Chamber Music Competition Competition winning both the Senior Division and the Gold Medal. Graeme Jennings, a former student of Mark's, former second violinist in the Arditti String Quartet, and now a professor at Queensland Conservatory in Brisbane Australia said of Mark Sokol, "Once you've experienced obsessive compulsive and detailed music making on that level, you can never accept any 'namby-pamby chicken poop playing' from yourself or others. He will be greatly missed, never forgotten and his legacy lives on!"
Next to music, Mark was most enthusiastic about birding. His wife and closest companion of 27 years Elaine (Laney) Langlois shared this passion for birding and together they traveled the New World. On one expedition he called a friend in Houston asking to spend the night. Arriving late he explained that he and Laney had found the rare Kelp Gull they were seeking near Galveston Bay but, not completely satisfied with the sighting, he announced that they would be leaving significantly before dawn so they could see it again with different light on the plumage. After finding every common and most rare birds in North America he proceeded to spend the better part of the last 20 summers and winters in South America looking for every known (and some unknown) birds in difficult terrain and extremely unusual locations. Helicopter flights, motorboat and canoe trips, followed by a high-altitude trek were not unusual. Mark may have achieved his long-time goal to see more birds in the New World than anyone else.
Mark Francis Sokol of Sebastopol California died at home on Friday November 28, 2014 from pancreatic cancer in the presence of his loving family. He was born in Oberlin OH on July 16, 1946 to parents Vilem Sokol and Agatha (Hoeschele) Sokol.
In addition to Ms. Langlois, Mark is survived by his former spouses Margaret Pressley of Seattle WA, Eleanor Briggs of Hancock NH; his children Robert Sokol (Washington DC) and Erin Sokol (Colorado Springs CO); his grandchildren Spencer and Grant Sokol, and Eli and Annaliese Fricke; as well as his siblings Damian Sokol (Arrowsic ME), Anne Sokol Philpott (MukilteoWA), Paula Elliott (Ann Arbor MI), Angela Russell (Edmonds WA), Rebecca Duncan (Shoreline WA), Sister Claire Sokol (Reno NV), Mary Brown (Vancouver BC), Jennifer Sokol (Seattle WA), and John Sokol (Sarasota FL).
Donations can be made in Mark Sokol's name to the World Wildlife Fund (P.O. Box 97180, Washington D.C. 20090-7180 or www.worldwildlife.org), the National Audubon Society (225 Varick St., New York, NY 10014 or www.audubon.org), and the Walter W. Naumburg Foundation (120 Claremont Ave, New York, NY 10027). The Sokols would like to add a special note of gratitude to Memorial Hospice for their incredible support and also to Drs. Wes Lee and Richard Powers.
Published in San Francisco Chronicle on Dec. 7, 2014