On Nov. 10 at 8 p.m., Grammy Award-winning pianist Gloria Cheng will premiere 32 short compositions. Sponsored by the Brown Arts Initiative, the event will commemorate the life of the late Steven Stucky, an acclaimed composer and mentor to Assistant Professor of Music Eric Nathan.
In addition to the works of 31 of Stucky’s other friends and students, Cheng will include Nathan’s work in her performance at the University. She will perform these works, in addition to Stucky’s own composition, at the Martinos Auditorium before she completes the CD with Bridge Records. That Friday afternoon, Cheng will also give a lecture in the Orwig Music Library as part of the “Music Now” series.
Stucky was a “singular force in the world,” Nathan said. “His music was filled with such feeling, intellect and humanity.”
Nathan first met Stucky at the Aspen Music Festival and School in 2005 as an undergraduate student. He continued to study with Stucky between 2008 and 2012 as a doctorate student at Cornell. “He led lessons like a colleague who was lending another set of ears,” Nathan said, adding that he pushed his students to make decisions on their own.
When Stucky passed away in February 2016 at age 66, he left fellow composers, students and followers in mourning. He was a “lovely, erudite and eloquent man who so many of us turned to,” Cheng said. During his career, he taught at The Julliard School and Cornell and was a resident composer at the Los Angeles Philharmonic. In 2005, he received a Pulitzer Prize for his “Second Concerto for Orchestra.”
Cheng first began working with Stucky when she was playing second keyboard with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Stucky had been working as a new-music advisor during a “golden age” for composition, she said. He would attend practices, bringing a “benign, supportive, funny, humble yet brilliant presence,” she added.
During that time, Cheng began to work with Stucky’s own compositions. She made a recording featuring the works of Stucky and Esa-Pekka Salonen. Stucky suggested that she pair these works with a piece by Witold Lutoslawski, whose work he helped bring to the public eye. When she released the CD in 2008, Stucky wrote the liner notes. The recording received a Grammy for Best Instrumental Soloist Performance. “I know, in my heart, that the reason it won the Grammy was because of Steven,” she said.
In April 2016, the director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic suggested that six of Stucky’s friends and former students write their own compositions for a tribute concert. She asked Cheng to divide the pieces amongst different pianists. Upon hearing about this project, more of his friends asked if they could contribute their own works. In response, Cheng decided to organize and perform a larger compilation that would incorporate these different voices.
She reached out to Stucky’s friends and fellow composers and received an overwhelming response. “I knew how many of us, including me, really wanted a way to express our … grief over losing such a dear man so shockingly and unexpectedly,” Cheng said. So many friends and students of Stucky wanted to participate that Cheng had difficulty creating a list of works short enough for the single recording she will perform next week at Martinos Auditorium.
In bringing this performance — entitled “Garlands for Steven Stucky: Gloria Cheng in Recital” — to the University, Nathan hopes to introduce students to Stucky’s work. Stucky exemplifies what “being an integral part of a musical community” means, Nathan said. He hopes that this event, as well as the “Music Now” lecture series, will give students insight into the close bonds integral to the music community and help foster artistic relationships at the university level.