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Lou Harrison



For more than fifty years, Lou Harrison has explored music from across the centuries and around the world. Harrison spent most of his life in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he was influenced by everything from Cantonese Opera to Gregorian chants to traditional Mexican music. His early compositions dealt mainly with percussion, combining Western, Asian, African, and Latin American rhythmic influences with the unique sounds of his own homemade "junk" instruments. Early on in his career, Harrison studied composition with Henry Cowell, worked closely with John Cage, studied in Los Angeles with Arnold Schoenberg, and conducted the New York Little Symphony in the premiere of Charles Ives's Third Symphony (Ives even shared his Pulitzer Prize with Harrison). In addition to his work as a composer, Harrison maintains an interest in dance, theater, and puppetry.

The album La Koro Sutro (Esperanto for "the Heart Sutra," referring to the Buddhist heart of divine wisdom) presents works based on Harrison's explorations in the choral, orchestral, and gamelan musical realms. Harrison and his late partner William Colvig built one of the first American gamelans using aluminum slabs, empty #10 tin cans, and galvanized garbage cans. The piece entitled La Koro Sutro features this gamelan (which is now referred to as "Old Grandad"), harp, organ, and the chorus and chamber chorus of UC Berkeley. The chorus sings in Esperanto, the international language. The featured selection from that work, "Strofo 7," infallibly touches on the musical nerve that can simultaneously denote sorrow and supreme beauty. La Koro Sutro also includes the 1986 composition "Varied Trio," which Harrison composed for David Abel, Julie Steinberg, and William Winant. The lovely "Rondeau in Honor of Fragonard," features Abel on violin and Steinberg on piano in an elegant modern take chamber music.

2000's Rhymes with Silver again features Abel, Steinberg, and Winant. This time, they are joined by former The Kronos Quartet member and cellist Joan Jeanrenaud and violist Benjamin Simon. "Gigue and Musette" is a joyful lilt originally written by Harrison in 1943 when he was studying with Arnold Schoenberg. "Ductia" is a more mournful piece utilizing cello, piano, and vibraphone.