Renowned composer and MSU alumnus David Maslanka dies at 73

Posted: 2:40 PM, Aug 22, 2017
Updated: 2017-08-22 18:40:21Z

David Maslanka , a world-renowned composer and alumnus of the Michigan State University College of Music, died in early August in his home in Missoula, Montana. The composer of more than 150 musical works was penning his next symphony until his death from a severe type of colon cancer at 73.

Maslanka’s body of work includes 50 pieces for wind ensembles, eight symphonies and 17 concertos. His work has been characterized as Americana influenced by Bach chorales and is included in more than 50 recordings and performed around the globe.

Maslanka came to MSU to study with H. Owen Reed and graduated with his master’s degree in composition in 1968 and his Ph.D. in 1971. Before MSU, he attended the Oberlin Conservatory and spent a year at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria.

“We were extremely saddened to hear of David’s sudden passing,” said James Forger, dean of the MSU College of Music. “He was an inspiration to everyone and enriched the world through his art. His kind and gracious spirit will live on in the beauty and transformative power of his music.”

Maslanka moved to Montana in the 1990s to compose full time after teaching for two decades at several universities and colleges in New York.

His compositions have populated the repertoire of the MSU Wind Symphony and student ensembles over the years.

Among works performed by MSU faculty and students are concertos for trombone, flute and saxophone, as well as “Symphony No. 4”— a one-movement, 30-minute piece commissioned by MSU and a consortium of universities in 1994.

Director of MSU Bands Kevin Sedatole said that particular symphony propelled Maslanka into the forefront of wind band composition and signified how his music could reach out and connect with audiences in an extremely personal way.

“He could paint a picture for you through music that was so real that it helped you interpret aspects of life,” Sedatole said. “His music just reaches out and grabs you.”

Joseph Lulloff , MSU professor of saxophone, also describes Maslanka as inspirational and a warm, generous friend.

“David was the type of person that when you met him, you felt like you had known him a very long time, like a member of your family,” Lulloff said. “He was extremely kind and gracious, and had a way of drawing music out of people.”

Lulloff collaborated with Maslanka on a project that included recording the concerto and touring through Europe to perform the work.

Most recently, Lulloff and Maslanka were planning to collaborate on a new saxophone sonata. He adds that Maslanka was optimistic about defeating cancer and continuing to inspire others with his music. 

Maslanka’s most recent visit to MSU’s campus was during a weeklong residency focused on student ensembles in fall 2015 during MSU’s Homecoming Week .

Sedatole said the MSU Wind Symphony will dedicate its Sept. 28 performanceto Maslanka with a performance of “In Memoriam”— a work that Maslanka composed for a good friend whose wife had died. The Wind Symphony will also perform Maslanka’s “Symphony No. 8” with guest conductor Gary Green on Oct. 26.

“These works capture David’s spirit so well,” Sedatole said. “For me, David showed us how to be real about the way you feel about music, to be vulnerable and open and to give every part of yourself to the music.”