Univ. honors world-renowned composer, conductor, pianist and teacher Henri Lazarof

January 31, 2020

Brandeis will honor alumnus Henri Lazarof MFA ’59 with the Henri Lazarof Living Legacy at Brandeis University. As part of the legacy, the university will house the Henri Lazarof Archives, host the Henri Lazarof Concert Series, the Henri Lazarof New Music Brandeis Annual Concert and the Henri Lazarof International Commission Prize.

The archive collection consists of 170 hard-copy manuscripts and other materials that relate to Lazarof’s career, according to the Brandeis website. There are also over 200 letters that were sent to Lazarof by notable composers, conductors, musicians and musical colleagues spanning his career in Europe and the United States. 

The Henri Lazarof New Music Brandeis Annual Concert will “fund the residency of prominent new music performers to work with graduate student composers, giving these young composers the opportunity to have their works performed by outstanding musicians,” according to the Brandeis website. This concert is part of the larger Brand New Music initiative

The Henri Lazarof International Commission Prize is a new composition competition of an original work for select instruments. According to the Brandeis website, each year, composers can submit original compositions to complement the existing work by Henri Lazarof. The winning composition will also be performed with Lazarof’s work. The specific instrumentation for the 2020 prize includes flute, harp and viola. Multimedia and electronic music components can also complete the compositions. The winner of the prize will be awarded a $15,000 commission prize and their piece will be performed at Brandeis in Spring 2021. 

“We at Brandeis are deeply honored to host the Henri Lazarof Living Legacy, celebrating a renowned alumnus and composer,” wrote BrandeisNOW. “Mr. Lazarof lived an extraordinary 20th century life, which our university was privileged to be a part of, and we are pleased to be able to perpetuate his legacy throughout university and today’s composers and musicians.” 

Lazarof was born in Bulgaria and was a concert pianist and composer by the time he was a teenager. He studied composition in Jerusalem under Paul Ben-Haim before attending the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome, Italy. After completing his studies in 1957, Lazarof came to Brandeis to complete his Masters of Fine Arts degree on a fellowship with Arthur Berger and Harold Shapero. 

He taught in the music faculty of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) from 1962 until his retirement in 1987. During his tenure at UCLA, Lazarof started composing full-time in 1982.

In his lifetime, Lazarof had 126 different musical works, which were published with Associated Music Publishers (G. Schirmer, Inc.), Theodore Presser Company and Bote and Bock et. al. These works included seven symphonies, concertos for cello, flute, viola, piano and a number of other chamber orchestra and small quartets, as well as mixed choir pieces. 

Lazarof also received numerous awards for his compositions and performances, including first place in the International Tchaikovsky Competition. He also received two Grammy nominations in 1991 in the categories: “Best Contemporary Composition” and “Best Classical Performance—Instrumental Soloist(s) with Orchestra.” 

As a classical musician myself, I decided to listen to some of Lazarof’s repertoire to see how I felt about it. A quick Google search led me to his Wikipedia page, which says that he is best known for his composition, “Tableaux for piano and orchestra.”

If you had randomly played this piece for me, I would have immediately known that the piece was from the 20th century from just the first movement, just because of the style. Unlike classical musicians that most people would recognize like Beethoven and Mozart, a lot of modern composers typically do not do large grandiose openings like music from the Romance or Baroque period.

But one of the most distinctive things that I heard while listening to Lazarof’s piece was the discordance in some of the chords. While I appreciate the sound, personally it just doesn’t work for me. But I do really appreciate that the university is honoring the late Lazarof, it’s always great for the Brandeis community to know about Brandeis alumni that have gone on to do great things. 

I’m excited to hear the winning composition that will be played alongside Lazarof’s piece next spring. Some of the greatest compositions oftentimes comes from composers that were inspired by those before them.

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