Lounge Lizards
Flying High


On Sunday, composer, conductor and pianist Lukas Foss passed away at the age of 86, at his home here in New York. There are kind notices about Foss in the Times and on other blogs, where you can read all about about his life and legacy one of the foremost American musicians of the 20th century. The fact that Foss isn't better known has much to do with his having been overshadowed for much of his life by his close friend and colleague, Leonard Bernstein.

Somewhere in my parents' attic, there is a picture of Foss and I, taken in the library of my college radio station some fifteen years ago. Foss had come to campus for a concert of his music, and I had the chance to speak with him on-air for nearly an hour. He was warm and gentle, almost grandfatherly in manner. In a German accent only slightly softened by sixty years of American citizenship, he told me colorful stories about Tanglewood, about Lenny, about the Brooklyn and Buffalo Phils, where he forged his reputation as a champion of contemporary music. We also spoke at length about his own music, especially his song cycles Time Cycle (1960) and Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird (1978), which had originally been commissioned by WFMT in Chicago.

"Perhaps your station would like to commission a work from me as well?" he said, smiling.

I asked him at one point what he thought about the state of the modern symphony orchestra, and its' apparent aversion to contemporary music.

"The concert hall is very much like a museum," he said. "Museums are wonderful places, because they preserve all these incredible works of art: Beethoven, Mozart, Mahler. But, they need to have new art, too. It is absolutely essential."

Here's a clip of Foss conducting Ives' Unanswered Question, which today sounds even sadder than usual.