Dorrance Stalvey, 74; LACMA Music Director

Times Staff Writer

Dorrance Stalvey, a composer and award-winning music director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, has died. He was 74.

Stalvey died in his sleep early Sunday at his home in Park La Brea. The cause of death was lung cancer, his wife, Valerie Stalvey, said.

The death followed the recent news that LACMA was drastically cutting back its sponsorship of classical music. The museum had presented Monday Evening Concerts, believed to be the nation’s longest-running series devoted to new music, since 1965.


Under Stalvey’s leadership, which began in 1971, LACMA added two residency concert series, by the California EAR Unit and Xtet; a chamber music series; and a free outdoor Friday night jazz series.

On June 2, LACMA announced that it would eliminate the residency series and continue the Monday series for one more year.

“We’re going to concentrate on programs that enhance the core mission of an art museum, which is to present the visual arts to the public,” LACMA Deputy Director Bruce Robertson said in a statement.

The news caused an uproar in the local music community.

“Dorrance Stalvey stood for something,” Times music critic Mark Swed said Tuesday. “He was a quiet man who wrote sophisticated music that honored the high modernist tradition.

“He also kept alive and well, in his quiet and significant way, an important Los Angeles tradition, the famed Monday Evening Concerts.

“And when he needed to, he fought,” Swed said. “Though weak and ill in these last months, he refused to take lying down LACMA’s attempts at axing his essential programs. He was one of the ones who make Los Angeles great.”


Museum President Melody Kanschat issued a statement Monday: “The extent of [Stalvey’s] contributions to the Monday Evening Concerts is legendary, and his award-winning compositions have brought international attention to Los Angeles. He will be missed by both the entire LACMA family and by all those who enjoyed the music he presented.”

Stalvey was already very ill when he prepared next year’s Monday evening and residency series, his wife said. At his death, he was also composing an opera, “The Kursk,” based on the Russian submarine disaster in 2000 in which a nuclear vessel exploded, killing all 118 men aboard. Mark Lee, a Los Angeles poet, playwright and freelance journalist, was the librettist.

Stalvey was born Aug. 21, 1930, in Georgetown, S.C. He studied clarinet at the College of Music in Cincinnati. Until his late 20s, he focused on jazz improvisation, but then he began composing serious art music, essentially teaching himself.

“I was a jazz musician originally,” Stalvey told The Times in 1995. “I got my master’s degree in clarinet. I played classical on clarinet and jazz on saxophone. But I stopped listening to jazz for many years, until I established for myself what I really wanted to do, which was compose. Now I only want to listen to the best music, whatever it is.”

He moved to Los Angeles in 1958 and taught composition and analysis at Immaculate Heart College from 1972 to 1980. In 1971, he succeeded Lawrence Morton as artistic director of Monday Evening Concerts.

Stalvey, who was on the search committee looking for Morton’s successor, had not sought the job.

“We were getting toward the end of that season and hadn’t been successful in finding anyone,” he said in 1995. “I volunteered to do the job until we found someone else. That was 25 years ago.”

In 1981, Stalvey became director of music programs at LACMA.

He and the museum received six awards for adventurous programming from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, the most recent in 2004.

In honor of Stalvey’s upcoming 75th birthday, several programs during the season that ended in May included his compositions: “Prevue,” “A Fragment of Silence,” “PLC Extract,” “String Quartet 1989,” “Changes,” “Exordium/Genesis/Dawn” and “Pound Songs.” Among his other works are “Ex Ferus” for six cellos or string sextet (1982) and “In Time and Not” for multimedia ensembles (1970).

In addition to his wife, Stalvey is survived by two children by his first wife, Marilyn: Jeff of Corona and Lisa Stalvey of Calabasas. Marilyn Stalvey died in 1995. He remarried in 1997.

A memorial celebration is being planned. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Monday Evening Concerts Memorial Fund, in care of Piano Spheres, P.O. Box 1106, Los Angeles, CA 90078.