[Ed. Note: It has been a month since composer/conductor David Stock died at the age of 76 following a brief illness brought on by a rare blood disorder. Born and based for the majority of his life in Pittsburgh, where he established the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble in 1976, Stock was arguably the Steel City’s greatest advocate for contemporary music. But his sphere of influence spanned across the United States and reached internationally as well. In the days following his death, the outpouring of reminiscences on social media about Stock and his personal impact on people was truly overwhelming.
Among those who Stock touched deeply were Randall Woolf and Kathleen Supové. Woolf, a freelance composer, arranger, and composition teacher living in Brooklyn, composed a piano concerto Skin Deep that was premiered by Stock and PNME and he also served as Stock’s copyist for many years. Kathleen Supové, a pianist who performs, premieres, records, and champions new music, had served as a soloist under Stock’s direction both with PNME and the Duquesne Symphony Orchestra. Woolf and Supové also happen to be a married couple, which also seemed an apt way to honor David Stock for whom family was a paramount concern—his own family as well as the entire family that is the new music community.–FJO]
Randall Woolf: When you look up the word “avuncular” in the dictionary, there is a picture of David Stock. Mustachioed and thin, except for a nearly spherical abdomen, he always reminded me of some of my own uncles—a gang of roofing contractors, usually found in or near a Jewish deli. Always informal, often making a deal of one kind or another, David was distinctly non-academic. You also might say he was quite interested in food. I always remember him starting a rehearsal by raising his baton and stopping his first upbeat to inquire, “Wait….where are we going to eat after the concert?” He was charming, relaxed, and utterly without pretense.
But if you were to peer inside the head of this uncle, you would see a vast network, encompassing the entire globe and connected to musicians of all stripes, from China to Venezuela to Iran. David was one of the most knowledgeable musicians I have ever known, truly a mind without borders or prejudice, hungry for every new style, name, and concept in the world of music. The group he founded, the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, was his library and laboratory. So many prominent names in American new music got their first attention from David and his group. As long as it was musical and new, David was into it. And not just the music—David was friend to the person who wrote it, as well. The list of people he mentored, including Kathy and me, really does seem endless. Not just composers, but performers as well, and spouses and relatives. As soon as he got to know you, he began to meditate on how his network could be used to help you, to make connections, to further your creativity, to further the cause of new music, and even to help you make a living. For as brilliant and accomplished as he was, he was a staunch anti-snob and always remembered how it felt to be starting out, needing gigs and support—be it emotional, musical, or financial.
For many years, I worked for David as his copyist. The copyist’s view of music is a strange one; you get more involved in the nuts and bolts of the piece than the musical message and develop a serious case of “cannot see the forest for the trees.” David’s music was usually constructed of recurring blocks and textures, which got longer and shorter when repeated, and a handful of accompaniments. It was kind of plain looking on the page. But when I would listen to a piece I had just copied, I was moved and touched so deeply; his music was so alive and human, so emotionally convincing and gripping, that it was at times hard to believe it was the same music I had seen in the score. It reminds me of how his brilliance and erudition were belied by his casual, folksy appearance and manner. He was all of a piece—a caring, giving, brilliant, and musical man.
Kathleen Supové: I’m tempted to start and end my tribute to David Stock by saying “what Randy said”! I couldn’t have put it better myself, but maybe I can amplify it in some personal ways.
I first met David by chance in the very early ’80s at a Musica Viva concert in Boston. He was immediately so warm and friendly and was concerned about some professional service I’d used or something—how it was going, were they helpful, that kind of thing. I don’t remember much about the issue at hand, but I did remember David!
A few years later, Randy went off to a festival that David held with the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble. When I heard the details, I knew right away that if aliens coming in from Mars wanted to know about new music in the United States, they should land at this festival. I learned a lot myself.
When I finally got to know him better (which was not hard to do, even if you were shy), I realized he was a person who not only knew everything, he knew everyone. I would even play a game with him where I would try to think of someone in our field whom he didn’t know! Just when I thought I was getting the best of him, I’d find out he had conducted their first East Coast performance or introduced them to their spouse or some such thing.
He hired me to play concertos with PNME and also the Duquesne Symphony Orchestra (he was no slouch as a conductor either)—most notably Skin Deep, which he commissioned from Randy. Yes, indeed, he was the first to think of a concerto for me, by Randy! We performed it several times, as well as Michael Daugherty’s Le Tombeau de Liberace on a couple of occasions. One year while doing our taxes, we noticed that at least 1/3 of our income came from something related to David Stock. We joked that he could have claimed us as dependents! Seriously, though, David was the closest thing to a mentor that either of us ever had.
The last time I saw him was September 11, 2011. We both performed on a Peace Concert/10th Anniversary 9-11 remembrance sponsored by Stephen Burns and Fulcrum Point. He conducted the world premiere of an ensemble arrangement of his Three Yiddish Songs. It had been a long concert, many long, soulful, heavy pieces in a row. When David’s piece started, I remember feeling so uplifted and even joyful in response to this buoyant music, in part because of his wizardly orchestration, and also just because he had such a multi-layered emotional response to this tragedy. After the concert, we all went to a wonderful Greek restaurant in downtown Chicago. Someone in our entourage knew the owners, so they brought us platter after platter of rich, tantalizing dishes. David was in heaven.
Both of Us: The best way to celebrate who David Stock was is to perform some of his music! He has a lot of it: six symphonies, ten string quartets, twelve concertos, and more—humorous pieces, sad pieces, austere pieces, energy-filled danceable pieces, Jewish pieces, jazzy pieces. May he remain a part of American music forever.