I couldn’t attend the performance of two of my Planets at Williams College Saturday because there was a snowstorm, and the roads leading from the Hudson Valley into northwest Massachusetts are slow two-lane roads up and down mountains behind trucks, uncomfortable driving even in sunshine. So I e-mailed Steven Bodner, the ensemble director, to say I wouldn’t make it, and he e-mailed back that he wouldn’t be there either because of a bad flu. And now Eve Beglarian informs me he died Monday night! I’m absolutely shocked. Steven was a vital, energetic, supremely talented conductor who had great rapport with his students and a creative, progressive approach to programming. He got in touch with me about performing my piano concerto Sunken City, and ably conducted the American premiere; then at my recommendation he was called to Bard on a kind of emergency basis to lead a performance of Feldman’s Rothko Chapel, which he executed beautifully. He was a real up-and-coming conductor, whom I saw potentially playing a national role on the new-music scene. What an inexplicable loss.
Sunken City is a tremendously difficult piece rhythm-wise, with constant changes in the first movement among meters like 17/16 and 11/8; and many of the students in Steven’s ensemble weren’t even music majors. When I asked him how he pulled it off with such precision, he said, “I never let them know it was difficult.”