William Kraft, long time percussionist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, composer, conductor and teacher passed away on February 12, 2022.
William Kraft was a member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic for 26 seasons, 20 as principal timpanist. Starting in the 1955/56 season, the first seven seasons were spent as a member of the percussion section. He was also the assistant conductor for three seasons under Zubin Mehta. A prolific composer, he became Composer-in-Residence at the LA Phil from 1981–1985. During this period, he was responsible for the founding and directing of the LA Phil’s New Music Group, one of several contemporary music projects envisioned and organized by the then Philharmonic’s Managing Director, Ernest Fleischmann. Kraft headed the ensemble from 1981–85 (he was followed by John Harbison, New Music Advisor and later Composer-in-Residence from 1985–88, and Steven Stucky, Composer-in-Residence & Consulting Composer for New Music, 1988–2009).
Born in Chicago, Illinois, William Kraft studied at Columbia University under Jack Beeson and Henry Cowell for composition, orchestration with Henry Grant, percussion with Morris Goldenberg, timpani with Saul Goodman and conducting with Rudolph Thomas and Fritz Zweig. He was also an active freelance musician while in New York, including playing at the Metropolitan Opera. In 1954, Kraft joined the Dallas Symphony, leaving after one season to move to Los Angeles.
While in Los Angeles, Kraft also organized and directed the Los Angeles Percussion Ensemble, a group responsible for many premieres and recordings of works by composers such as Ginastera, Harrison, Stravinsky and Varèse, among others. As a percussion soloist, he also performed the U.S. premieres of Stockhausen’s Zyklus and Boulez’ Le Marteau sans maître, as well as a recording of Stravinsky’s Histoire du soldat under the composer’s direction.
His vast number of award-winning compositions included five commissions by the LA Phil, including Andirvieni and Pierrot Mute; soundtracks, including the scores to the films Psychic Killer (1975), Avalanche (1978), Bill (1981) and Fire and Ice (1983); and the opera Red Azalea, amongst others. His works were recorded by all the major labels, including, in 2010, the LA Phil recording on Deutsche Grammophon of his Timpani Concerto No. 1, featuring LA Phil Principal Timpanist Joseph Pereira as soloist with LA Phil Creative Chair John Adams conducting.
From 1991 to 2002, William Kraft served as Chair of the Composition Department and Corwin Professor of Music Composition at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he was Professor Emeritus up until 2002.
Williams Kraft is survived by his wife Joan Huang, his son Patrick Kraft and daughter Jennifer Slawta, as well as six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
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