Steven Stucky, a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer who joined the Juilliard composition faculty in 2014, died of brain cancer on February 14 at his home in Ithaca, N.Y. He was 66 and is survived by his wife, Kristen, and children, Matthew and Maura.
One of the country’s most frequently performed composers, Stucky was awarded the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for his Second Concerto for Orchestra, which The New York Times called “an electrifying display of orchestral fireworks” that had “imaginative structure with a set of wide-ranging variations at the center and no padding whatsoever.” Stucky’s comic opera, The Classical Style: An Opera (of Sorts), with a libretto by Jeremy Denk (DMA ’01, piano), was premiered at the 2014 Ojai Festival and given its New York premiere in December of that year at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall.
Born in Kansas and raised there and in Texas, Stucky started out studying the viola but as a college student, at Baylor and Cornell universities, focused on conducting and composition, earning bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. Before joining the Juilliard faculty, he taught at Cornell (where he was chair of the music department from 1992 to 1997 and later became professor emeritus), Eastman, and the University of California at Berkeley.
A prolific composer, Stucky wrote for numerous orchestras, chamber and vocal ensembles, and solo instrumentalists. He enjoyed a long affiliation with the Los Angeles Philharmonic (which commissioned and premiered the Second Concerto for Orchestra), serving for more than 20 years in various capacities including composer in residence and consulting composer for new music. From 2005 to 2009 he hosted the New York Philharmonic’s Hear and Now series, and in 2011, he was the Pittsburgh Symphony’s Composer of the Year. Among the many recordings of his works, two, Cradle Songs and Whispers, which were both commissioned and recorded by the male a cappella ensemble Chanticleer, won Grammy Awards.
Stucky was a noted expert on the Polish composer Witold Lutosławski; his book Lutosławski and His Music (Cambridge University Press, 1981) won an ASCAP Deems Taylor Award, and he served on the Warsaw jury of the Witold Lutosławski Competition for Composers. He was also a trustee of the American Academy in Rome, a director of New Music USA, a board member of the Koussevitzky Music Foundation, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
In 2015, when asked what he’d be doing if he hadn’t become a musician, Stucky told The Juilliard Journal: “I’m lucky that the music thing worked out, because I never had a Plan B. But I also love writing words, so perhaps I could have tried writing? I’m just happy that Plan A came through.”
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