Lou Harrison (1917-2003)
The composer Lou Harrison died suddenly in the evening of February 2, 2003. He was travelling to Columbus Ohio, after having taken the California Zephyr from the West Coast to Chicago, en route to a festival in his honor at Ohio State University. During a stop along the way Mr. Harrison fell in an apparent heart attack and was pronounced dead shortly thereafter. New Albion has had a long professional and personal relationship with Mr. Harrison, and released a number of his recordings, with two more in process, yet we are just a small spoke in the wheel of friends, composers, musicians, conductors, labels, publishers, artists and creative individuals who have been inspired by the deep spirituality and indomitable melodic line Lou offered the world. He is held close to many hearts, a hero in life and art.
Lou Harrison has for fifty years been in the vanguard of American composers. An innovator of musical composition and performance that transcends cultural boundries, Harrison's highly acclaimed work juxtaposes and synthesizes musical dialects from virtually every corner of the world.
Born in Portland, Oregon, on May 14, 1917, Lou Harrison grew up in the culturally diverse San Francisco Bay Area. There he was influenced by Cantonese Opera, Gregorian chants and the music of California's Spanish and Mexican cultures. Harrison also developed an interest in Indonesian Gamelan music through early recordings.
As a young man, Lou Harrison worked as a dancer and a dance accompanist. His early compostions included a large body of percussion music, combining Western, Asian, African and Latin American rhythmic influences with homemake 'junk' instruments. During this period, Harrison worked closely with John Cage and began studies in Los Angeles with Arnold Schoenberg.
A move to New York in the mid-forties brought Lou Harrison to the Herald Tribune as music critic. Here Harrison helped to bring wider attention to the work of Charles Ives, and is considered largerly responsible for Ives' receiving the Pulitzer Prize. The young composer and critic also embarked on a study of early European music during this period. In the late forties, Harrison taught at the legendary Black Mountain College. By the early fifties, he moved back to California, where he has lived ever since.
Residence on the West Coast has intensified Harrison's involvement in a synthesis of musical cultures bordering on the Pacific, reflected in such works as "Pacifica Rondo" and "Lo Koro Sutro" for chorus and gamelan. He has over the decades maintained an interest in dance, theater and the craft of instrument building and is an accomplished puppeteer who has written musical pieces for puppet theater.
Lou Harrison has travelled extensively, adding to the global resonance his artistry, performing and studying with the musical masters of varied cultures, and presenting his work to enthusiastic audiences everywhere.
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