Obituary: Soprano Neva Pilgrim Dies at 85

By Francisco Salazar

On Jan. 21, 2024, American soprano Neva Pilgrim died at the age of 85.

Pilgrim was born on Nov. 21, 1938, and grew up on a farm in Cottonwood County in southwestern Minnesota.

She went on to graduate from Hamline University and received a Master of Music degree from Yale University. From there she went on to study at the Vienna Academy of Music on a Ditson Fellowship and worked very closely with such composers as Pierre Boulez, Lukas Foss, Luciano Berio, George Rochberg, R. Murray Schafer, and Luigi Dallapiccola, among others.

She became known for her work in contemporary music and said, “I agree wholeheartedly that new music needs to be heard, whenever and wherever, because by having such a forum it will be nurtured. Bach wouldn’t have written all his great works if he didn’t have a reason to, e.g., they needed music for church services, among other things. Musical organizations now, especially new music groups, are the patrons of today, much like nobility was in previous centuries.

Pilgrim was the co-founder of the Society for New Music which was dedicated to presenting a fall/winter concert season and Cazenovia Counterpoint in July.

Throughout her career, she also performed with such orchestras as the Chicago Symphony, Syracuse Symphony, Binghamton Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Brooklyn Philharmonic, Northeastern Philharmonic, and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. She also made over 20 recordings.

Pilgrim was well respected in the music industry and won numerous awards including the Martha Baird Rockefeller grant, NEA and Fromm Foundation commission grants.