Foss, Lukas

Foss, Lukas fôs [key], 1922–2009, American composer, pianist, and conductor, b. Berlin as Lukas Fuchs. He came to the United States in 1937, attended the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, studied conducting with Serge Koussevitzky and composition with Paul Hindemith at Yale, and became a citizen in 1942. His composition Four Inventions, for piano, was published when he was 15. In 1957, while a professor of composition at the Univ. of California, Los Angeles, he founded the Improvisation Chamber Ensemble, which performed many of his experimental works. From 1963 to 1970 he was music director and conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, where he became noted for performing avant-garde compositions. Teaching at the State Univ. of New York at Buffalo during this period, he also founded (1963) its Center for Creative and Performing Arts. In 1971 he was named music director of what became the Brooklyn Philharmonic, transforming a community ensemble into a significant New York orchestra; he remained in the post until 1990. He also directed the Jerusalem Symphony (1972–76) and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (1980–86).

As a composer, Foss created a wide variety of works in a great many musical forms. He was initially influenced by American composers, notably Aaron Copland, and produced traditional works such as The Tempest (1942), an orchestral suite; The Prairie (1944), a cantata based on Carl Sandburg's poem; and Griffelkin (1955), an opera. His later interest in improvisational techniques and aleatory music is reflected in such works as his chamber piece Elytres (1964). Still later, he turned to minimalism and a postmodern eclecticism, as in his Renaissance Concerto (1986).

See K. L. Perone, Lukas Foss: A Bio-Bibliography (1991).

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