Proms 2006 – Steven Stucky

Written by: Colin Anderson

American Steven Stucky has been “a great admirer of the Proms over the years and especially of this 2006 season with its wealth of living composers.” Steven is the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Consulting Composer. “I am fortunate to have a bird’s-eye view from my post. The good news is that heartening young talents do keep coming along. From the UK, for example, among the roughly under-40s, I have recently been impressed by Stuart MacRae, Julian Phillips, Ian Wilson and Joseph Phibbs – the latter studied with me, though he seems to have survived it – and several others. The other good news is that they are writing quite different, quite distinct music.”

Steven Stucky’s Second Concerto for Orchestra reaches the Proms on August 13. Written for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Esa-Pekka Salonen, the conductor will remain constant, with orchestral duties now falling to the Philharmonia. “I wrote a Second Concerto because my first, in 1986-87 for the Philadelphia Orchestra, has mostly been ignored – though I still think it’s one of my strongest pieces – and also because I thought I owed my home orchestra my best effort at a showcase work. The real virtuoso instrument here is the orchestra itself as a whole, but of course the spotlight also shines on the individual sections. I always think very concretely about the personalities and skills of the musicians who will premiere a work of mine. I had the playing of individual LA Phil members and the sound of the orchestra in my head. But that shouldn’t limit what other orchestras can do with the piece.”

In the Proms Prospectus, mention is made to Stucky referring in his Second Concerto to Ravel’s G major Piano Concerto (also in the concert, along with the Mussorgsky/Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition). “There are many connections in my score to older composers to whom I feel especially close: not only Ravel but also Debussy, Stravinsky, Sibelius, Lutoslawski, and many others. This is partly a personal matter: settling accounts, acknowledging mentors, and paying homage to heroes. I wouldn’t like listeners to think too hard about these links, though. What will be clear, I think, is not the individual reminiscences but rather the larger picture, a colourful, sensual soundworld that belongs to the same lineage as those composers I just mentioned. For this reason, the Proms concert is a clever stroke: it makes a kind of extended family portrait, to which Esa-Pekka himself belongs, and puts me in that French-Russian orchestral context where I feel most at home.”

It’s encouraging to know that for Steven Stucky “the orchestra is still unsurpassed. There is no medium I could possibly enjoy more. I know, too, that no mechanical substitute – CDs, samplers, iPods, you name it – can match the visceral power, the richness of detail, and the sheer animal fascination of the orchestral concert. For my whole adult life, the symphony orchestra has been said to be dying, and there has been no shortage of Cassandras who not only remind us constantly of this but also seem to take a grim satisfaction from it. Thank goodness for music-lovers that the grand old beast is breathing still.”

  • Proms 2006
  • The above article was published in “What’s On in London” on 10 August 2006 and is reproduced here with permission

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