home
return to biography list

 

Biography/Program Note from conductor Larry Livingston, for a performance of "Signs of Life" with the University of Southern California orchestra, September 2009:


I first met Russell Peck when we were undergraduate students at the University of Michigan. From the beginning, I was struck with his intellectual brilliance, musical facility, and, not least, with his sense of humor. In an era which demanded perforce that all “serious” composers write music in the “modern” style, which is to say guaranteed to befuddle the uninitiated listener, Russell was the first rebel with a cause. He decided early on that his music would sing, dance, and appeal to the vox populi. He folded melodic and rhythmic devices familiar to everyone into his own inimitable language, rich in affective meaning. Though he became somewhat of an outsider in the contemporary music establishment, he flourished as a working composer, relying entirely for sustenance on performance royalties rather than holding a faculty position in a university.

Beyond his extraordinary gifts as a composer, Russell carried a deep and unrelenting care for downtrodden and misbegotten souls who languished undeservedly in tragic circumstances, and devoted a significant portion both of his life and his personal resources to addressing world hunger. He believed that only when everyone has access to food could the quest to obviate human conflict succeed. To that end, Russell worked assiduously with and through the United Nations to achieve a Starvation-Free World culminating in a formal Resolution which, sadly, failed to pass simply because no nation would sponsor it. While he did not see his dream realized during his lifetime, one would hope that his more than thirty-year crusade will eventually receive the global adoption it warrants.

It was following one such quest to heal the world that Russell penned Signs of Life, so redolent with his original, accessible, and heart-felt voice. His recent and premature passing leaves a void which cannot easily be filled, not only because of his immense talent, but as well, because he was that rare human being whose commitment to spreading good ran far beyond rhetoric. I dedicate tonight’s performance to Russell, traveling somewhere in the ether, offering succor and compassion to those in need, even in the beyond.

home
return to biography list