A composer and poet, born in 1917. His early training was with Henry Cowell, later he studied with Arnold Schoenberg. Around 1943 he moved to New York City, where he worked as a music critic for the New York Herald Tribune with Vigil Thompson. At this time, the stress of war and urban living compelled him to leave the city for Black Mountain College where he joined John Cage, Merce Cunningham and Charles Olsen, among others, on the faculty there. In 1946, he conducted the premiere of Charles Ives' Third Symphony. He returned to California in 1954.
Lou Harrison presently lives in the Aptos, California area, in a small house that over looks the Monterey Bay on clear days, and is nestled by coastal redwoods. He is a jovial old man who favors bolo ties, and looks a little like the extant photographs of Johannes Brahms.
Lou Harrison's musical output is extremely varied. He has written extensively for every Western instrument as well as for many Chinese and Japanese plucked strings, flutes, and drums, and the Javanese and Balinese gamelan. His work very easily combines Western and other instruments, with a sense of each instrument's natural idiom.
When I last saw him, in August of 1999, he was in the midst of three projects: the revision of his opera Young Caesar for the 2000 Lincoln Center Festival, the composition of a new suite for harpsichord, and the design of a new retreat, a hay-bale house near Joshua Tree. He is one who creates the way a vine flowers and grows pumpkins.
Lou Harrison passed away February 2, 2003. Requiescat in pace.