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A KUSC Tribute to Composer Steven Stucky

My only quibble with Mark Swed’s lovely and thoughtful memorial tribute to composer, teacher, conductor, and musicologist Steven Stucky in the LA Times is this sentence: “Everybody, and I mean everybody, liked Stucky.” I would simply exchange the word ‘liked’ for ‘loved’.

Stucky, who died Sunday at 66 of brain cancer, was blessed with a rare combination of brilliance and modesty. He was so affable that it was sometimes hard to square the native Kansan’s self-deprecating humor with the glittering genius of his achievements, both as a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and as an influential teacher for decades at Cornell, his alma mater, and more recently at the Juilliard School.

Steve’s 21-year association with the LA Philharmonic as its composer-in-residence and new music advisor is believed to be the longest such partnership in American music, and has had far-reaching impact.  He acted as a tour guide through the contemporary American orchestral repertoire for the orchestra’s longtime music director, Esa-Pekka Salonen. Together, along with LA Phil top brass Ernest Fleischmann and then Deborah Borda, they reinvented the American orchestra. They also formed a great friendship.

On a personal note, those years in L.A. afforded my KUSC colleagues and me the chance to get to know Steve well, and to interview him frequently. We never encountered a finer intellect, a gentler soul, or a more generous colleague. We will always cherish his music, his friendship, his memory.

Last spring, KUSC’s Sheila Tepper interviewed Steve about his new Piano Sonata. Gloria Cheng was about to play the world premiere at PianoSpheres in April 2015.

In June 2014, Steven Stucky made a big splash at the Ojai Festival with his new opera written in collaboration with pianist and writer Jeremy Denk, improbably based on Charles Rosen’s musicology tome, “The Classical Style”.  Typically, Stucky called it an “Opera of Sorts”.  Yet Mark Swed has dubbed it one of the “tiny but important handful of great American comic operas, the kind that can gently help us get through the day.” At an Ojai café during the Festival, I asked Steve how this strange and wonderful project came about. He told me he entered kicking and screaming.


Below are a couple of the many great recordings of Steven Stucky’s music (the complete discography is at his website here).

Son et Lumière, written in 1988, was one of Stucky’s first orchestral works to be played by the LA Philharmonic, led by then music director André Previn. Here is a performance by the Albany Symphony conducted by its music director, former LA Phil Associate Conductor David Alan Miller. 

Throughout his career, Stucky also wrote prolifically for the human voice, from art songs to choral works to an acclaimed oratorio, August 4, 1964, to “The Classical Style, An Opera of Sorts.” Here is one of his Cradle Songs, a carol of consolation, sung by Chanticleer

Written by:
Gail Eichenthal
Gail Eichenthal
Published on 08.23.2016