Ustvolskaya: In Memoriam
1st February 2007
— Dmitri Shostakovich On 22 December 2006, Russian composer Galina Ustvolskaya passed away at the age of 87. A life-long resident of St. Petersburg (born in 1919, when it was still named Petrograd), she studied at its Conservatory with Dmitri Shostakovich, and emerged as a unique and forceful compositional voice in the latter half of the 20th century. In her small catalogue of mature works, she refined an extremely personal idiom that is naked and ascetic, stripped of decorative textures, notable for the highest degree of expressive intensity. Though she was famously reclusive, the timelessness of her music was nonetheless appreciated by a small number of performers and listeners. As G. Schirmer's Russian music consultant, Laurel Fay, recalls: "In a curious set of circumstances, I first encountered Ustvolskaya's scores in the mid-1970s and was impressed enough to arrange a full-length concert of her music at Cornell University. I can't say it was a roaring success. Shortly after, while studying at the Leningrad Conservatory, I was fortunate enough to make her acquaintance and hear more of her music, which was highly respected by a small but discerning Russian audience."The discovery of Ustvolskaya's music by Western listeners came later, in the 1990s. Since then it has been frequently programmed by such performers as the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Tanglewood Music Festival, the Winnipeg Symphony, Vancouver New Music, Continuum, and the Chicago Symphony.