Entertainment & Arts

Steven Stucky dies at 66: Pulitzer winner, longtime composer for the L.A. Phil

Steven Stucky

Steven Stucky, pictured in 2007 conducting at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

Steven Stucky, a Pulitzer Prize winner for music and for 21 years a composer closely affiliated with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, died Sunday morning of brain cancer at his home in Ithaca, N.Y., said his agent, Jessica Lustig. He was 66.

Stucky’s long relationship with the L.A. Phil began in 1988, when music director André Previn appointed him composer in residence. He later became the orchestra’s consulting composer for new music during the tenure of Previn’s successor, Esa-Pekka Salonen.

During that time the L.A. Phil commissioned Stucky to compose his Second Concerto for Orchestra, which premiered in March 2004 at Walt Disney Concert Hall and went on to win the 2005 Pulitzer Prize in music.

“I didn’t know about this until five minutes ago,” a surprised Stucky said when a Times reporter called his office at Cornell University for a reaction to the Pulitzer news. “I was just minding my own business, teaching theory.”


Stucky went on to explain how his Second Concerto was rooted in Los Angeles.

“I used it to sum up what I knew about writing for orchestra,” he said. “I figured I’d write in a different way after it. I also put in what I knew about Esa-Pekka and the L.A. Philharmonic. After 17 years, that’s my orchestra -- the orchestra I carry around in my head. The piece has a lot of connections to our time together.”

Stucky earned recognition from the Grammys as well. Three years ago, “August 4, 1964,” composed by Stucky to a libretto by Gene Scheer in a commission from the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, was nominated in the contemporary classical composition category. Pianist Gloria Cheng (in 2008) and the choral group Chanticleer (in 1999) won Grammys performing Stucky’s music.

 Steven Stucky

Steven Stucky, left, embraces conductor Lionel Bringuier during a 2012 concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)


More recently, the composer premiered “Symphony” in 2012 with the L.A. Phil. In an interview with The Times, Stucky said the symphony was written thinking about the orchestra, “and in some cases about specific players. I know the L.A. Phil like the back of my hand, or I did. That orchestra has been in my head so long.”

In 2014, the comic “The Classical Style” by Stucky and librettist Jeremy Denk became the first opera to premiere at the Ojai Festival.

The opera’s accomplishment was “as a study in how to transform the silly into the sublime,” wrote Times critic Mark Swed, who included the performance in his list of the year’s best. “The opera pokes delightful fun at Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, but it also cunningly ponders why millions of us music lovers are drawn to live modern lives in the thrall of centuries-old music.”

Stucky was born in 1949 in Hutchinson, Kan. At age 9, he moved to Abilene, Texas. He attended Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and received his doctorate in musical arts from Cornell University in Ithaca.

Stucky went on to teach at Cornell from 1980 to 2014. He also founded the contemporary music group Ensemble X there in 1997. In 2014, he joined the faculty of the Juilliard School.

Few knew of Stucky’s cancer, an aggressive tumor diagnosed not long ago, Lustig said. At the time of his death, the composer was working on a short choral piece for the St. Louis Chamber Chorus that will premiere April 10, Lustig said.

Survivors include his wife, Kristen Frey Stucky; son Matthew Stucky; and daughter Maura Stucky. No services are planned.


Look here for an appreciation to follow from Swed.

Follow The Times arts team @culturemonster


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