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Peter Lieberson, Preeminent American Composer, Dies At 64

Lieberson's music spoke to the vital importance yet fragile impermanence of love.

Peter Lieberson, one of this country’s most acclaimed 21st-century composers, died on Saturday, April 23rd in Tel Aviv, where he was undergoing treatment for lymphoma, a disease he’d battled since 2008. He was 64.

Lieberson dedicated many of his most famous works to his late wife, mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, who lost a long battle with breast cancer in 2006. One of these pieces, the 2005 Neruda Songs (after love poems by Pablo Neruda), so touched conductor James Levine that he refers to them as “a kind of miracle.”

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Like many of his contemporaries, Lieberson began his career by writing music that was heard by audiences as angular and inaccessible. But in his later vocal pieces like the Neruda Songs, he developed a singing, romantic style that soared atop the music’s atonal, academic underpinnings.

Lieberson’s work, which also includes instrumental music, has been championed by elite ensembles like the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the New York Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, and the Boston Symphony. Maestro James Levine took a special interest in Lieberson, commissioning five pieces from him for the BSO.

Lieberson’s music survives as a testament to his intensely emotional life, from his passionate love for Lorraine to his crushing heartbreak after her death — to, after a time when he could not find the strength to compose, the discovery of his ability to love again. He is survived by his third wife, longtime friend Rinchen Lhamo.

Sam Callahan

Sam Callahan graduated from IU in 2013 with degrees in Trumpet Performance and Economics. He is now a student at Harvard Law School.

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