BPO Music Director: 1963-71
As a fifteen-year-old prodigy Lukas Foss arrived in America in 1937 where he enrolled at Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music. By that time he had already been composing for eight years, with lessons in his native Berlin with his first piano teacher, Julius Herford. After his family fled Nazi Germany in 1933 Foss studied in Paris with Lazare Levy, Noel Gallon and Felix Wolfes, and advanced flute with Louis Moyse. At Curtis his teachers included Fritz Reiner (conducting) and Isabelle Vengerova (piano). Foss was yet 15 when G. Schirmer issued his first published work, a series of piano pieces composed mostly on the New York subway. By the age of 18 the wunderkind graduated with honors from Curtis and began advanced study in conducting with Serge Koussevitzky at Tanglewood and composition with Paul Hindemith at Yale University.
Foss soon displayed his mature gifts as an all-around musician who enjoyed equal celebrity as a composer, conductor, pianist, educator, and spokesman for serious music. In the course of his long career he has taught composition at Tanglewood and has been composer-in-residence at Harvard, the Manhattan School of Music, Carnegie Mellon University, Yale University and Boston University. In 1983 he was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, for which he is now a Vice Chancellor. He is also the recipient of eight honorary doctorates.
As a composer Foss embraces the musical languages of our time and has produced a catalog of well over one hundred works which Aaron Copland described as "among the most original and stimulating compositions in American music."
In 1953 Foss succeeded Arnold Schoenberg as professor of composition at the University of California at Los Angeles. While at that post, experiments in performance with his newly-founded Improvisation Chamber Ensemble led to new compositions like Time Cycle for soprano and orchestra, a setting of texts about time by Auden, Housemam, Kafka and Nietzsche, that was first performed by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. In turn, Foss blended his experimental instincts with tradition in Echoi of 1963, a work for four virtuosi, now widely considered to be one of the chamber masterworks of the 20th century. Among his best-known orchestral works are the Baroque Variations, Piano Concerto No.2 and the Renaissance Concerto for flute, in addition to the children's operas Griffelkin and The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and a considerable body of vocal work.
As a conductor Foss has directed most of America's major symphony orchestras including those of Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. Abroad, he has led the Berlin Philharmonic, the Leningrad Symphony, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Santa Cecilia Orchestra of Rome and the Tokyo Philharmonic, among others.
After Josef Krips resigned his Buffalo post for the San Francisco Symphony, the stage was set for creative lightning when Foss was named as the Music Director of the BPO. At the opening concert of the 1963-64 season the walls of Kleinhans shook for the first time with the flash and peal of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. Little did anyone realize that even 'Le Sacre' would be 'old hat' in a hurry. Within three seasons the BPO led the world in the performance of new music.
The Orchestra was invited to Carnegie Hall for the first of what became regular appearances there. Its first truly major recordings were made on the Nonesuch label featuring the music of Sibelius, Cage, Penderecki, Xenakis and Ruggles. Moreover, under Foss the BPO's first nationwide TV appearances were broadcast on PBS with Stockhausen's Momentum and Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, after which followed a variety of major tours, including two with Arthur Fiedler and his 'Pops' repertoire. Then, in a misty rain in 1970 maestro Foss shared the dias with the late Governor Nelson Rockefeller at the ground breaking at Artpark, the declared permanent summer home of the BPO. They were heady times indeed.
Foss became the Music Director of the Brooklyn Philharmonic in 1971, the Musical Adviser of the Jerusalem Symphony in 1972 and the Music Director of the Milwaukee Symphony in 1981. To date his conducting activities continue with many guest appearances around the world. Foss is currently completing his String Quartet No.5 on commission from the Guarnieri String Quartet.