Lieberson, Peter

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Lieberson, Peter

Peter Lieberson. 1946–2011, American composer, b. New York City. Lieberson studied composition at Columbia, where his teachers included modernists Milton Babbitt and Charles Wuorinen. While in school he began practicing Tibetan Buddhism, which profoundly influenced his life and music. He received a doctorate from Brandeis and taught (1984–88) at Harvard. Lieberson's music is rigorous and atonal yet informed by a sensuous romanticism. He first gained wide attention with a 1983 piano concerto. He was particularly noted for his beautiful songs, which include Neruda Songs (2005), for mezzo-soprano, a setting of the poet's sonnets of love and loss; The World in Flower (2007) for mezzo-soprano, baritone, chorus, and orchestra; and Songs of Love and Sorrow (2010) for baritone. Other well-known compositions include the orchestral Drala (1986), the opera Ashoka's Dream (1997), and Red Garuda (1999) for piano and orchestra.

His second wife, Helen Hunt Lieberson, 1954–2006, b. San Francisco, was a mezzo-soprano known for the luminous richness of her voice, her attention to detail, and the seeming sponteneity of her singing, and some of her husband's finest pieces, e.g., Neruda Songs, were written for her. She was a violist before studying opera at the Boston Conservatory. Her breakthrough role was in Handel's Giulio Cesare, directed (1985) by Peter Sellars. She worked with him several times, most notably in her shattering performance of two Bach cantatas. Hunt Lieberson, who was particularly interested in baroque and contemporary vocal music, made her Metropolitan Opera debut in John Harbison's Great Gatsby (1999).

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