Lieberson earned his doctorate at Brandeis University and taught in the 1980s at Harvard University. But he will be best remembered locally for his "Neruda Songs," an exquisite and deeply felt song cycle written for his wife, the mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. That work, co-commissioned and later recorded by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, blended a sophistication of craft with a piercing emotional directness. Lieberson was deeply influenced by Tibetan Buddhism, and this piece in particular seemed to place love and the possibility of loss in a kind of sublime equipoise that spoke to listeners far and wide.
After Lorraine Hunt's death from breast cancer in 2006, Lieberson, while battling his own cancer, returned to Neruda's poetry for another BSO commission, a work titled "Songs of Love and Sorrow," which the orchestra premiered last March at Symphony Hall (photo above by Michael Lutch). Reflecting on his title in a program note, Lieberson wrote, "To have [love] without [sorrow] is not likely, but certainly it is our capacity to love that makes this human life so poignant."
Photo: Michael J. Lutch