February 17, 2016

Composer Professor Steve Stucky Ph.D. ’78 Dies at 66

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Prof. Emeritus Steve Stucky Ph.D. ’78, music, a widely acclaimed composer and Pulitzer Prize winner, died Sunday at his home in Ithaca. He was 66.

Stucky taught at Cornell for 34 years, during which he founded Ensemble X — a musical collaboration between Ithaca College and Cornell faculty. He retired last year to teach at the Juilliard School, according to a Department of Music press release.

Stucky was born in Kansas and studied at Baylor University in addition to Cornell. He won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize in Music for ‘Second Concerto for Orchestra,’ a piece commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Stucky worked with this group for 21 years, the longest affiliation in American orchestral history, according to the University.

Prof. Steven Pond, music, attributed the success of Stucky’s music to its universality.

“He was finely attuned to the human condition,” Pond said. “He believed in people, understood people, listened to them and created music that people would want to listen to and would give meaning to them.”

Stucky dedicated a great deal of time to improving his work, believing that he could not rely on talent alone, according to Prof. Kevin Ernste, music.

“His approach required hard work, perseverance, clarity of purpose and technique, but also a lot of heart,” Ernste said. “The work resulted from his whole person, and I think we can hear that in the music he left us.”

Prof. Xak Bjerken, music, added that Stucky’s use of color and harmony in his compositions was “admired by other composers and lovers of music around the world.”

“[He] expressed the complexities of life, its exaltations and darker moments, with a direct and heartfelt approach,” Bjerken said.

Bjerken remembered Stucky as “a gentle person, extremely articulate, a very good writer and a powerful advocate for his students and friends.”

“He was a true artist who could negotiate being a scholar and teacher in academia with seeming ease,” Bjerken said. “He listened carefully to each student, and he shared his knowledge in the most elegant way — with clarity and without bringing attention to himself.”

Ernste added that the network of people Stucky influenced extends far beyond Cornell.

“My inboxes are testament to that fact that I am far from alone,” Ernste said. “There are hundreds, if not thousands of people, whose lives were impacted by Steve and his seemingly tireless advocacy of them and their work. To feel the scope of that shared impact from so many sources is to understand what is meant by ‘a life well-lived.’”

Stucky’s relationships with his students and colleagues were intimate and supportive, according to Pond.

“His music family will miss him,” Pond said.

The University plans to hold a remembrance for Stucky, according to the Department of Music release.