Friday, June 14, 2013

Robert Suderburg, 1936-2013

Somehow I missed the news that the composer Robert Suderburg died April 3. (Even Wikipedia still doesn't know.)

I remember Dr. Suderburg as the occasional guest of the Philadelphia Orchestra, which played his Orchestra Music I back in the 1970s when I was a kid and just discovering modern music. Michael Bookspan, the orchestra’s longtime percussionist, also commissioned Suderburg's Percussion Concerto, an attractive and memorable piece that, miraculously, the orchestra revived several years after its premiere. I heard the work both times and was impressed, on the second occasion, by just how much of it had stuck with me. The composer seemed pleased when I told him afterward. He was an approachable, soft-spoken gentleman, and one to the few one of the few tall composers I have ever met.

Mr. Suderburg is an unjustly under-recorded composer, but some outstanding performances of his music did once find their way onto vinyl, particularly the wonderful Piano Concerto In the Mirror of Time, with Bela Siki and the Seattle Symphony conducted by Milton Katims; and Voyage de nuit (Concerto d'apr├Ęs Baudelaire), with his wife, the soprano Elizabeth Suderburg, as soloist; and the Piedmont Chamber Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Harsanyi. Both are out of print, but they are worth tracking down. There are also some fine recordings of his chamber music on CD..

Mr. Suderburg was a member of the diverse but accomplished generation of composers born in the late 1930s, a class that includes Steve Reich and Charles Wuorinien. He had no truck with either serialism or minimalism, but neither was he a neoromantic pastiche-artist desperate for audience approval. His music can be angular (as in the Piano Concerto), or it can be smooth (as in Voyage), but it is always inventive, well-constructed, stylistically unified and recognizably a product of its time. I have long wished that it were better known.

The time has come to revisit my recordings.


Anonymous said...

I attended a performance of the percussion concerto with Michael Bookspan playing in Ashville in the late 79's. It was quite thrilling.

Joe Barron said...

The hallmark of a good percussion concerto is that it is more fun to listen to than to watch.

Barry said...

Is there any way Sony Classical can be coerced into finally re-issuing the piano concerto "Within the Mirror of Time" in digital format? It is long overdue and will be a crying shame if this master tape never sees the light of day again.

Anonymous said...

The Suderbergs are on a 1976 Bicentennial LP ('American Sampler'), performing songs by Ken Benshoof, Ives, et al. Superb musicianship from both of them. I hope to extract their performances from the LP and upload them to YouTube.