Dear Berklee Community,
It is with deep sadness that I write to tell you that Tibor Pusztai, an associate professor in the Composition Department who served on the faculty for 20 years, passed away on January 12 following 13 days in the intensive care unit at a hospital in Portland, Maine. Tibor had a heart attack on December 28 and never regained consciousness. His wife, Ann, said that the hospital staff took excellent care of him and she doesn’t think he ever experienced any pain.
Hungarian-born, Tibor came to Berklee in 1996 and over his two decades here, taught many classes, including conducting, Scoring for Strings, Traditional Harmony and Composition, and directed studies (Small Forms and Orchestral Composition). Prior to Berklee, he was a faculty member at New England Conservatory of Music, Ithaca College, University of Tehran, and Tanglewood Music Center. While at NEC, Tibor served as an assistant to Gunther Schuller, an appointment he described as “an amazing experience in terms of my education and my development.”
Outside of Berklee, Tibor was the music director for the Manchester Symphony and Connecticut Valley Chamber orchestras, and the president of the following organizations: Connecticut Composers, New Voices Productions, and the Studio of Electronic Music.
He also was the former associate conductor and composer-in-residence for the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and the former conductor for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Tibor was the recipient of the Koussevitzky Composition Prize and the American Society for Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) Award (Programming); and released numerous recordings on which he was either the conductor and/or composer.
Arnold Friedman, chair of the Berklee Composition Department, shares: “Tibor Pusztai was for me a model teacher: an expert in his field, passionate about his subject, and wonderful at meeting every student right where he or she was. This quotation from a student evaluation says it all: ‘Tibor makes me want to be great. He’s hilarious and always makes me feel the need to improve.’ ”
Jonathan Holland, a professor in the Composition Department, writes: “Tibor stayed with me for a couple years when he came to town to teach. We became pretty close friends during that time and he shared many great stories about his life, from being a refugee and fleeing Hungary at the age of 10, to working under Gunther Schuller, to being the music director for the shah of Iran. He lived a very full life, and touched many people. Most of us remember him as the soothing sage, which he was for countless students, colleagues, and more. I was always impressed at how many students he knew, and how much they respected him, which was clearly the result of the respect he showed each of them as individuals first and foremost. He certainly embodied the phrase he repeated often: ‘Everything is everything.’ ”
Tibor wrote on his Berklee faculty web page:
“When one teaches, one is not teaching subjects, but people. The things that I teach—primarily conducting and composition—are pretty esoteric and have to do very much with the development of self-confidence in the student. I bring the kids out of themselves, so that they can explore their own inner poetry. My task is to make my students understand that conducting, for instance, is the synthesis of all the various things that we study, such as history and harmony, and that the conductor is the galvanizer of all of this information when interpreting a score and seeing what the vision of a composer is. It’s essential to teach this even if the student never conducts at all. For a business major, for instance, or a drummer, it might not be of great utility from a technical perspective, but from a conceptual perspective, certainly, it’s very important. My emphasis has always been to train the complete musician. That’s the way I’ve operated all my life.”
We have no information on funeral services at this time, but we will post information here if we receive it.
I invite you to share your stories and memories of Tibor Pusztai in the comments below.
Vice President for Academic Affairs/Vice Provost