RIP Steven Stucky, Nov 7, 1949 - Feb 14, 2016

Was reading the LA Times over breakfast and saw the news of the passing of composer Steven Stucky.

As a subscriber to the LA Phil since 1999, I was aware he had a professional relationship with the orchestra but didn't really know much about the details. Swed, in his piece remembering Stucky's impact on the LA Phil, provided the story.

Some extended excerpts from Swed:
I first met Steven Stucky at Yaddo, the arts colony in upstate New York, in the summer of 1988. He was a 38-year-old composer just beginning to emerge on the national scene. He had been named composer-in-residence of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and I had come to interview him for his first major newspaper profile. A native of Kansas who had grown up in Abilene, Texas, and taught at Cornell University, he agreeably combined an academic's inner dry wit with a courteous aw-shucks veneer. [......] Who knew that this affably backward-looking, backwater nerdish composer appearing unworldly even in the Victorian setting of Yaddo would play an indispensable role in making the L.A. Phil the hippest and most progressive major orchestra in America? I didn't. He certainly didn't. Previn couldn't possibly.

In fact, Stucky, who tragically died Sunday, turned out to be an essential ingredient in the secret sauce of the Southland's new music ascendancy nationally and internationally. Death from an aggressive brain tumor seems hard to imagine, not for a brilliant brain like his that luxuriously processed information and allowed him to take delight in details the rest of us easily overlooked [......] Stucky's formal involvement with the L.A. orchestra continued for 21 years, and he remained a member of the L.A. Phil family after that. Clashing with the administration over the direction of the orchestra, Previn resigned in 1989, and the appointment of Esa-Pekka Salonen made it seemingly out of the question for Stucky to remain. The orchestra wanted a new, non-Previn image. And no one seemed less likely a colleague for a young Finnish modernist than a Cornell-based Kansan known for aping Viennese waltzes. [.....] Stucky did live in our time. He admired Witold Lutoslawski above all of his contemporaries and wrote an important book about the Modernist Polish composer. Proving conventional wisdom once more wrong, Stucky bonded with Salonen, who also looked up to Lutoslawski. The two young Luto-ites became and remained close friends. As a composer himself, Salonen obviously didn't need a composer-in-residence, but he did need someone to guide him through the American and the L.A. scenes, and Stucky was his man.
NPR also had an article about Stucky.

Extended excerpts:
The classical music community has marked two sad passings of major composers this month: first the death of 93-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner Leslie Bassett on Feb. 4, and now the untimely death of another Pulitzer winner, Steven Stucky, one of the most widely admired and collegial figures in modern music.

The composer's wife, Kristen Stucky, said in a statement that he had been diagnosed with a fast-moving brain cancer in November, and that he died at their home in Ithaca, N.Y. on Feb. 14.

Whether he was writing for orchestra, vocal ensembles, solo musicians or chamber groups, Stucky balanced his taut constructions with a richly pigmented palette.

In 2005, Stucky won the Pulitzer Prize for his Second Concerto for Orchestra, and was also the winner of Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, among many other honors. Along with his work as a composer and academic, he was also a well-regarded conductor and author who won the ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award for distinguished music writing for his 1981 book Lutosławski and His Music.
Back in 2004, I had the opportunity to hear Second Concerto for Orchestra. (that later won a Pulitzer Prize). At the time I wrote the following:
What I enjoyed most about the work was most notable in the second movement: how the music utilizes the full variety of the instruments in the orchestra. It seemed like every section of the orchestra at one point or another got to lead with the melody and everyone else harmonizes or responds to that section. Because of the close proximity of my seats to the orchestra there were many moments where I felt the sounds coming at me from different directions and you get the sense of the instruments dialoging with each other. New music is very hit and miss to me. I've been a subscriber since 1999 and some of the new compositions are quite forgettable and the audience is sometimes left granting polite applause with looks ranging from apathy to puzzlement to a vague sense of alarm. As for me, upon it conclusion, I thought to myself, I would like to hear it again and explore it some more. I also found myself wondering if it would be as enjoyable at a less acoustically clear and bright hall? The work highlights the dynamic range of sound an orchestra can make and Disney Hall is lively enough to make that fuller appreciation possible. Interesting, in the post-performance question and answer session, Stucky remarked, I'd hate to think how that would have sounded in the old Dorothy Chandler! And all the music fans said, "Amen." Okay, we didn't actually say it but I imagine most of us thought it!
As I read the news of his passing, I felt the spark of remembering that particular concert and that I wrote about the experience of hearing it nearly 12 years ago. As I read more about his life story, his contributions to the LA Phil and the American music scene, it is clear he will be missed and remembered fondly.