The centennial of Lou Harrison, born on May 14, 2017, is just around the corner. Harrison's open, inviting music is full of inventive syntheses of different world traditions. Alan Rich called it "an ingenious kind of transcultural music." Harrison prized melody, and wrote long, luxurious lines, often in pentatonic scales. He deeply studied and performed in Indonesian gamelan ensembles, and made use of rhythmic modes or cycles, such as Usul from Turkish music, as structures over which his melodies flowed. He was a vigorous proponent of Just Intonation and a builder of instruments. And music was only one of many disciplines Harrison studied and practiced: he was also a poet, painter, dancer, calligrapher and Esperanto speaker. He liked to say about his music that he "laid out his toys on a wide acreage" – a simple, cheery statement that belies his deep learning and practice of many of the world's great artistic traditions.
On Lou Harrison's death on February 2, 2003 at the age
of 85, Anthony Tommasini wrote in the New York Times that Harrison was "a beloved West Coast composer, a genuine American maverick, a pioneer
in the synthesis of Asian and Western music and a father figure to musicians
in the region. Mark Swed wrote this appreciation of Harrison in the Los Angeles Times.
The previous week, The Juilliard
School had celebrated Harrison's 85th birthday with its Focus Festival.
Works by Harrison ranged from cello solo to full orchestra, and the series
of concerts gathered other composers from the western United States, many
of whom were influenced, and encouraged, by Harrison.