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Obituaries

Grant Beglarian, 74; Composer, Dean of Performing Arts at USC

July 21, 2002|DIANE HAITHMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Grant Beglarian, the composer, foundation executive and educator who served as dean of performing arts at USC from 1969 to 1982, has died. He was 74.

Beglarian died July 5 of lung cancer at White Plains Hospital, not far from his home in Scarborough, N.Y.

As a composer, Beglarian wrote band, choral and chamber music. His works have been performed by the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Dallas, Detroit and Seattle symphonies. Perhaps his best-known composition is "Of Fables, Foibles, and Fancies for Cellist and Actor," written in 1971.

As USC's dean of performing arts, Beglarian oversaw the faculties of music, cinema/television and drama, which were later divided into separate departments.

Beglarian became the driving force in establishing the Arnold Schoenberg Institute to house the composer's manuscripts and memorabilia.

Schoenberg, a modernist who developed the 12-tone system of composition in the early 1920s, spent the last 17 years of his life in Los Angeles, composing and teaching at USC and UCLA, and a number of the composer's heirs still live in the area.

The Schoenberg family donated the collection to USC in 1973. But following a bitter battle between USC and the composer's heirs over appropriate use of the building, the collection was moved to a new home in Schoenberg's native Vienna in 1998.

"From my standpoint, he was completely responsible for bringing the institute to USC, and I've been obliged to him ever since, even though it ended up in Vienna," pianist Leonard Stein said of Beglarian. Stein, considered the paterfamilias of Los Angeles new music and a former student and teaching assistant to Schoenberg, headed the Schoenberg Institute from 1975 to 1991.

"Putting up the institute was not an easy job--he had to talk the USC trustees into it," Stein said. "He had people write letters from all over the world to show USC how important this was."

Ronald Schoenberg, son of the composer and a retired Los Angeles municipal judge, agreed with Stein. "It always takes one person with the foresight to see what something is--and he was, in this case, that person. It was something that was a little bit daring to do."

Ronald Schoenberg added that Beglarian was upset to learn that the Schoenberg Institute was leaving USC. "He was very disappointed; he called me to ask if there was anything he could do. He was willing to call or write or do whatever he could," Schoenberg said. "But at that point, it was beyond repair."

Beglarian was born in 1927 in Tiflis, Georgia, in the Soviet Union. He was raised in Iran and received his early music education there. In 1947, he came to the United States to study music at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he received his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees.

He studied with Aaron Copland at Tanglewood in 1959-60, and counted the American composer among his principal influences. After Copland's death in 1990, Beglarian would become instrumental in the restoration and administration of the Copland House in Westchester County, N.Y.

Beglarian served as an editor at Prentice-Hall (1961-69) and concurrently as field director and project director for the Ford Foundation (1961-68). After his stint at USC, he became president of the National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts, based in Miami. From the mid-1990s until his death, Beglarian oversaw innovative collaborations between educational organizations and the Internet as international coordinator and director of global partnerships for Thinkquest.

Beglarian's career inspired his daughter, Eve, to become a composer too--although in a roundabout way. After high school, she headed to Princeton University to study neurobiology, but "after two months, I was ready to climb the walls," she said in a telephone interview from her New York home. "I needed music. In a way, I had to leave home to realize that I needed to do music myself. Because it was so much a part of the air in the house, so much a part of normal life, I didn't realize I was dependent on it."

Beglarian's son, actor and screenwriter Spencer Beglarian, received his bachelor's degree from USC before getting his master's at the Yale School of Drama. By the time Spencer Beglarian attended USC, his father had left the institution. "The joke was, my parents moved away for college," he said.

"I think my father's life is really about an investment of his personality and energy for future generations, and also continuing the legacy of those artists he appreciated in the past who inspired him," Spencer Beglarian added. "He wanted to provide access, not just archives and monuments."

In addition to his son and daughter, Beglarian is survived by his wife, Joyce. A memorial service will be announced at a later date. The family has requested that donations in his memory be sent to Copland House.

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