The concerto was premiered by the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Walt Disney Hall on March 12, 2004.
The $10,000 prize is awarded on the recommendation of the Pulitzer Prize Board for a "distinguished musical composition of significant dimension by an American that has had its first performance in the United States during the year."
The other finalists were two-time winner Elliott Carter for Dialogues, which was debuted by the Chicago Contemporary Music Ensemble in June, and Steve Reich for You Are (Variations), premiered by the Los Angeles Master Chorale in October.
Reich, a giant of the minimalism movement, has never won a Pulitzer; he has now been a finalist for three consecutive years, having been nominated in 2003 for the video opera Three Tales and in 2004 for Cello Counterpoint, a work for solo cello, tape, and video.
The jury for the music prize included composer Gunther Schuller, jazz pianist and composer Muhal Richard Abrams, composer Christopher Rouse, conductor David Zinman, and Los Angeles Times critic Mark Swed.
Born in 1949, Stucky is a teacher, writer, and conductor as well as a composer; he won the 1981 ASCAP Deems Taylor Prize for his book Lutoslawski and His Music and helped to found the new-music group Ensemble X. His works have been commissioned and performed by the Chicago Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, and New York Philharmonic, among other major orchestras. He was a finalist for the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for his first Concerto for Orchestra.
In addition to the Second Concerto for Orchestra, his recent works include the percussion concerto Spirit Voices, premiered by the Singapore Symphony; Jeu de timbres, premiered by the National Symphony; and To Whom I Said Farewell, a song cycle for mezzo-soprano and chamber orchestra, premiered by the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group.
Stucky has a long relationship with the Philharmonic, having served as composer in residence, principal artistic advisor to the New Music Group, and new music advisor.
Since 1980, he has taught at Cornell University, where he chaired the music department from 1992 through 1997.
First awarded in 1943, the music prize has gone to such major works as Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring (1945), Samuel Barber's Vanessa, and John Adams' On the Transmigration of Souls (2003), as well as more obscure pieces. In 2004, Paul Moravec won for Tempest Fantast, a chamber work for violin, piano, cello, and clarinet.
In recent years, the Pulitzer board has come under criticism for its almost exclusive focus on classical music—Wynton Marsalis's jazz oratorio Blood on the Fields, which won in 1997, is the sole exception—and its orientation toward academic composers. In response, the board announced in June 2004 several changes in the criteria for the music prize, intended to encourage the submission of jazz, musical-theater works, and film scores.
Previously, works under consideration were required to have been performed for the first time in the United States during the previous year. Under the new rules, the release of a recording during the year is also sufficient. In addition, the guidelines no longer require the submission of a score (although they still encourage it), to allow for the candidacy of improvised works.
The board also changed the makeup of the five-person jury. Instead of four composers and a critic, it now includes three composers, a critic, and a person from elsewhere in the music world—this year, Zinman.
The changes did not lead, at least this year, to a non-classical winner, but they may have had an effect on the deliberations. Zinman has conducted the premiere of more than one of Stucky's works. And in 2001, Stucky contributed a work titled Three Little Variations for David to a 65th-birthday concert for Zinman at the Aspen Festival.