Ivan Tcherepnin


Born: February 5, 1943; Issy-Les-Moulineaux, France   Died: April 11, 1998; Boston, MA  
Born in France to Russian and Chinese parents, Ivan Tcherepnin became an American citizen in 1960. As a third-generation composer, Tcherepnin pushed music well beyond the heritage of his father (Alexander) and grandfather (Nikolai), pursuing the extremes of 1970s avant-garde with the help of the latest electronic instruments. He eventually settled into a more conventional modernist/postmodernist style, and composed with such distinction that he Read more received the prestigious and lucrative Grawemeyer Award in 1996.

Tcherepnin took his bachelor's degree (1964) and master's (1969) from Harvard, where he studied primarily with Leon Kirchner. He also received tutelage in Europe from Stockhausen, Pousseur, and Boulez, the leading figures in the period's avant-garde. Tcherepnin's early mastery of electronic instruments actually enabled him to give advice to Kirchner, his teacher, when the latter ran into trouble with the electronic components of his opera Lily.

After holding teaching jobs at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and Stanford University, Tcherepnin returned to Harvard in 1972 to join its music faculty and serve as director of the Harvard Electronic Music Studio. He remained there until his death from cancer in 1998.

In 1976, when he finally succeeded in writing something (Set, Hold, Clear and Squelch for oboe and synthesizer) that utterly bewildered his strongly encouraging father, Tcherepnin felt it was time to stop innovating for innovation's own sake. Even so, he continued to favor the use of astringent sound collage and early minimalist techniques. A friend of John Cage, Tcherepnin was also fascinated by the older composer's reliance on indeterminacy.

During the 1980s and 1990s Tcherepnin broadened his scope, mingling electronics with traditional instruments like the Persian santur and old instruments like the psaltery. An example is Flores Musicales (1980), in which the sounds of live oboe, psaltery, and violin undergo sometimes subtle, sometimes radical electronic alteration.

One of his most audience-friendly works is the Double Concerto for violin, cello, and orchestra (1995), for which Tcherepnin won the International Grawemeyer Prize. It's an homage to the Romantic concerto, laced with quotations from the Romantic repertory as well as bits of John Coltrane. This exemplifies Tcherepnin the postmodernist, a path he followed in the years just before his death. Tcherepnin received grants from the NEA and the Rockefeller Foundation, commissions from the likes of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, and engagements as composer-in-residence at the Dartington Summer School, the Korsholm Music Festival, and the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. Read less