Back in the 1940s, composer Lou Harrison quietly began his own musical revolution.
Born in Portland in 1917, Harrison moved with his family to different locations around the San Francisco Bay Area. There, he studied world music with composer and mentor Henry Cowell and became interested in Cantonese opera and Indonesian, Japanese and Korean music, along with jazz and classical. Later at the University of California at Los Angeles, Harrison studied under Arnold Schoenberg and learned the Austrian composer’s twelve-tone technique.
In the mid ’30s, Cowell introduced Harrison to composer John Cage, and the three formed a life-long friendship and together scoured San Francisco’s Chinatown looking for percussive instruments for their music ensemble. By the ’40s, Harrison, Cage and Cowell had relocated to New York City.
The percussive pieces Harrison wrote at that time, however, used homemade and found instruments, such as automotive brake drums, as musical instruments. He also composed many pieces for Javanese gamelan and became a poet, artist and music critic. He and Cage composed many works for percussion ensemble, especially quartets.
Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University will present a celebration of Harrison’s music — and a tribute to Harrison’s 100th birthday — performed by SOU’s Percussion Ensembles, directed by Terry Longshore, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 18, in the Music Recital Hall, 405 S. Mountain Ave., on the SOU campus in Ashland.
Tickets are $10, $5 for seniors, and can be purchased at oca.sou.edu/box-office, by calling 541-552-6348 or at the music hall box office. Students get in free.
Unlike a string quartet in which every piece is for the same instruments, percussion quartets can vary widely from piece to piece and include dozens of instruments, Longshore says in a press release.
“For the Lou Harrison Centennial Celebration, three of Harrison’s percussion quartets will be performed, all composed in 1941,”…