American Composers Alliance: Nicolas Roussakis, a composer and a founder of the American Composers Orchestra, passed away in 1994 at the age of 60. He was born in Athens, moved to the United States at the age of 15 and was granted citizenship at 21. He earned a doctorate in music at Columbia University, where he taught from 1968 to 1977, and he studied in Germany on a Fulbright grant. Most recently, he was on the faculty at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. He won several awards for his compositions. He received commissions from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts and received two fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.
Among his renowned works are the symphonic poem “Fire and Earth and Water and Air,” the “Hymn to Apollo” for small orchestra and “Ephemeris” for string quartet. He was the executive director of the Group for Contemporary Music from 1971 to 1985, president of the American Composers Alliance from 1975 to 1981 and vice president of the American Composers Orchestra, of which he was a co-founder in 1976 with Dennis Russell Davies, Francis Thorne, and Paul Lustig Dunkel.
In its 1994 obituary, the New York Times called him “an energetic promoter of contemporary music.” Among the many Times reviewers of his work, Allon Kozinn wrote in 1982 that “‘Ephemeris’ (1979), is a particularly compelling and attractive work (CRI SD 471). A string quartet, ‘Ephemeris’ depicts, in its four movements, the adventures of a summer day in an Eastern Mediterranean town – from the haunting arrival of the dawn, through a lazy afternoon, an evening village feast, and finally a dreamlike descent into night. The sounds Mr. Roussakis calls for are not always beautiful or picturesque, and this is by no means a facile ‘travelogue’ score. In the ‘Morning’ movement, for instance, the haunting introduction gives way to trenchant edginess, and ultimately, to a jarring, mechanical scraping, before returning to its original aura. Later in the work, the quartet is asked to produce a shimmering, quickly modulating sustained tone, unearthly glissando sections, and effects that create a vaguely ‘electronic’ impression. The quartet of the Group for Contemporary Music handles its assignment expertly, and makes a strong case for the piece.”