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Koff Scholarship

The Robert Koff Scholarship in Music was created in 2014 as a tribute to the late musician, scholar and beloved Brandeis University professor of music. The scholarship is awarded to outstanding Brandeis students who are active in the music community at the University, with a preference for students who perform or study string instruments. Students must also have demonstrated financial need to qualify. There is no application process, and the recipient is selected by a committee from within the Department of Music.

  • View photos from Koff's life as a husband, father, mentor and musician.
  • Listen to Koff perform the Giga and Ciaconne movements of the Bach Partita #2 in D minor for solo violin, BWV 1004.
  • Listen to Koff lecture to a Brandeis audience on the structure of a Mozart opera (performing are Robert on violin and his wife, Rosalind Mann Koff, on fortepiano).
  • On October 17, 2015, the Lydian String Quartet honored Robert Koff with a performance of Harold Meltzer’s Aqua, Richard Wernick’s String Quartet no. 5 featuring soprano Tony Arnold, and Brahms’sString Quartet No. 1 in C minor, op. 51 no. 1. The evening also included remarks and remembrances from Interim President Lisa M. Lynch, Lydian String Quartet second violinist Judith Eissenberg, Barbra Rabson ’80, and Sally Pinkas ’79. Click here to learn more about the event.

Koff touched hundreds of lives by sharing his musical gifts with both musicians and non-musicians. He had a wide and lasting influence on many generations of Brandeis students. “Not a week goes by that I do not think of Robert Koff and all the musical gifts he gave me,” said Barbra Rabson ’80,  a horn player who studied chamber music with Koff. “He has had such a lasting influence on so many of us that I wanted to make sure we honored him by continuing to pass on the gift of music to future generations.”     

“Forget about the technical things. Play it as if you were telling a story.” -- Brandeis Professor Robert Koff

Koff began studying the violin at the age of 5. He later studied at Oberlin Conservatory and Juilliard. Koff was one of the founding members of the famed Juilliard String Quartet, playing in the quartet from 1946 until he joined the faculty at Brandeis as a professor and director of performance activities in 1958. Koff served as chair of the Department of Music from 1969-76.

“I would not be where I am today if not for Bobby Koff, whose boundless generosity of spirit was matched by his towering musicianship,” said Sally Pinkas ’79, professor of music and pianist-in-residence at Dartmouth College. “He taught me to speak and think through music, to truly listen to my musical partners, and to connect in the same direct way to Bach, Beethoven or Bartók. By his example, he inspired us all to become not only honest musicians, but also compassionate human beings.”

In the 1960s, Koff was joined at Brandeis by his wife, Rosalind, a pianist and harpsichordist, who became an artist-in-residence. Together, they performed, taught courses and established the first early music orchestra in Boston, giving Brandeis a prominent role in the early music movement in the United States.  

In 1980, Koff's dream of a quartet-in-residence at Brandeis led him to mentor the founding of the Lydian String Quartet. He transmitted his passion and deep knowledge of the repertoire to the four young women who auditioned for the quartet. Judith Eissenberg, one of the founding members of the quartet and a Brandeis professor, noted, “I am forever grateful for what Robert Koff gave us -- the tools to explore and express the magnificent music of the string quartet, and the freedom to create our own personality as an ensemble.  As I carry on the tradition, performing and teaching, he is my inspiration. He was a dear and generous man and a great musician.”

Koff retired from Brandeis in 1983 after 25 years on the faculty, yet his connection to the faculty, students and alumni remained strong. Professor Koff continued to teach, mentor and guide musicians in informal settings until just before his passing in 2005.

“Bobby was an extraordinary human,” said Chris Karp ’78. “Always an inspiration — for his wonderfully expressive, imaginative performances; for his passionate approach to life (to the violin, and baroque performance practice, and Bartok and Beethoven, and chamber music, and his beloved corner of Lexington, and his wonderful family); and for the whimsical humor that he greeted, and tickled, and threw the world off balance with. Most importantly, Bobby was an inspiration for his amazing generosity of spirit.”

In 2011, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy during the 54th annual Grammy Award ceremony for his role with the Juilliard String Quartet.  The quartet was the first classical ensemble to receive the award.

The Brandeis faculty and administration are honored to steward Professor Koff’s legacy in the form of the Robert Koff Scholarship in Music. 

For more information on making a gift to the scholarship, please contact Jillian Hahn Kohl in Institutional Advancement (781 736-4014 or jkohl@brandeis.edu). You may also make a gift online (in the section labeled "Enter the name of another fund" under Additional Giving Options section, type in "Koff Scholarship").