Remembering Lukas Foss

by Cornelia Foss

Written for the concert American Variations: Perle at 100, performed on May 29, 2015 at Carnegie Hall.

A man of contradictions, Lukas Foss was fun-loving as well as enormously serious (“…but never earnest,” to quote him). Everything about music came impressively easily to him, yet he worked incessantly.

Born in Germany, he studied in Paris from ages 7 to 15. In New York at 16, he rented a very small room, slept under his piano, and composed the oratorio The Prairie, which was performed by the Robert Shaw Chorale and later the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Koussevitzky. In 1949, the Rome Prize brought him to the American Academy in Rome, where we met and married two years later.

In 1951 Foss accepted a professorship at UCLA. When the Bel Air fire of 1961 destroyed our house, we stayed a year at Elliott Carter’s apartment in New York. Subsequently, Foss became the conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic, and founded the Center for Creative and Performing Arts.

In 1971 Foss became the director of the Brooklyn Philharmonic, where he started the New Wave Festival. A composer of over 350 works, he never tired of new ideas.

Sadly, Foss contracted Parkinson’s disease when he was 78. He would sit at the piano for hours and meticulously change fingering so he could still play.