Lou Harrison was born one hundred years ago today. He was a powerful presence, an authentic great composer.
The choreographer Mark Morris had a significant relationship with Lou, who composed Rhymes with Silver especially for Mark and Yo-Yo Ma. Other Morris dances to Harrison include Serenade (“Serenade for Guitar”), World Power (‘In Honor of the Divine Mr. Handel’ and ‘In Honor of Mr. Mark Twain’ from “Homage to Pacifica”; “Bubaran Robert”), Pacific (“Trio for Violin, Cello, & Piano”), and Strict Songs (“Four Strict Songs”). At the end of June, for the centenary, the Dance Group will premiere Numerator to “Varied Trio” at Tanglewood.
They are all wonderful, but the most familiar Morris-Harrison dance is Grand Duo, a popular MMDG repertory staple with about 300 performances since its premiere in 1993. (I played piano on almost one hundred of those Grand Duos from 1998-2002.)
It’s a fantastic piece of music and possibly an even greater dance. The best American art is populist and sophisticated, engaging but aloof, high and low. Grand Duo is in the canon of the finest this country has to offer, with the added benefit of peak collaboration, the melding of two profound creative minds.
Harrison’s rough and tumble relationship to European classical music aligns him with the rest of the mavericks: Charles Ives and Henry Cowell (both mentors of Harrison), Conlon Nancarrow, Henry Partch, Colin McPhee, more recently the direct disciple John Luther Adams. Of them all, Harrison might have had the most astonishing gift for original tuneful melody, for example the unusual chiaroscuro cantabile in the second movement of Concerto for Piano with Javanese Gamelan:
Alex Ross: To Lou, with Love.
Bill Alves and Brett Campbell have authored a new biography.
Trailer for A World of Music by Eva Soltes: