William Kraft (Sept. 6, 1923 – Feb. 12, 2022) had a long and active career as composer, conductor, timpanist/percussionist and teacher. He was Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he served for 11 years (1991 -2002) as Chairman of the Composition Department and Corwin Professor of Music Composition. From 1981-85, Mr. Kraft was the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Composer-in-Residence, for the first year under Philharmonic auspices, and the subsequent three years through the Meet the Composer program. During his residency, he was appointed by executive director Ernest Fleischmann to serve as the founding director of the orchestra's performing arm for contemporary music, the Philharmonic New Music Group. Mr. Kraft had previously been a member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic for 26 years; eight years as a percussionist, and 18 as Principal Timpanist. For three seasons, he was also assistant conductor of the orchestra, and thereafter, frequent guest conductor.
Mr. Kraft was awarded two Anton Seidl Fellowships at Columbia University, graduating with a Bachelor's degree magna cum laude in 1951, and later a Master's degree in Composition. His principal instructors were Jack Beeson, Seth Bingham, Henry Brant, Henry Cowell, Erich Hertzmann, Paul Henry Lang, Otto Luening, and Vladimir Ussachevsky. He received his training in percussion from Morris Goldenberg and in timpani from Saul Goodman, and studied conducting with Rudolph Thomas and Fritz Zweig.
During his early years in Los Angeles, he organized and directed the Los Angeles Percussion Ensemble, a group which played a vital part in premieres and recordings of works by such renowned composers as Ginastera, Harrison, Krenek, Stravinsky, and Varese. Kraft served as Stravinsky's timpanist and percussionist in charge of all percussion activities for the composer's Los Angeles performances and recordings. As a percussion soloist, he performed in the American premieres of Stockhausen's Zyklus and Boulez' Le Marteau sans Maitre, in addition to recording L'Histoire du soldat under Stravinsky's direction.
Mr. Kraft received numerous awards during his lifetime, including the Forte Award, two Kennedy Center Friedheim Awards (First Prize in 1990 for Veils and Variations for Horn and Orchestra, and Second Prize in 1984 for Concerto for Timpani and Orchestra), two Guggenheim Fellowships, two Ford Foundation commissions, fellowships from the Huntington Hartford Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Music Award, the Norlin/MacDowell Fellowship, the Club 100 Distinguished Artist of Los Angeles Award, the ASCAP Award, the NACUSA Award, the Eva Judd O'Meara Award, and First Place in the Contemporary Record Society competition. He received commissions from the Library of Congress, U.S. Air Force Band, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Kronos Quartet, Voices of Change, the Schoenberg Institute, consortium of Speculum Musicae/San Francisco Contemporary Music Players/ Contemporary Music Forum, the Boston Pops Orchestra, the consortium of Pacific Symphony/Spokane Symphony/Tucson Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, among others. His works have been performed by the New York, LA, Hong Kong, Rotterdam, and Czech Philharmonics, the Boston, Chicago, and Houston Symphony Orchestras, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and other major ensembles throughout the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. He fulfilled residencies at the Chopin Conservatory in Warsaw, Poland, the University of Indiana (Bloomington), University of Southern Oregon (Ashland) and University of Montana (Missoula & Bozeman). His music can be found on the Harmonia Mundi, CRI, Cambria, Albany, Crystal and Nonesuch labels.
Kraft used a variety of compositional techniques throughout his career. He focused on serialism in the 1960s and 1970s, while in the 1980s he incorporated jazz rhythms and impressionistic harmonies into his music. Some of his most noted works include his Concerti (Timpani, Piano, Multiple Percussionists, Violin), 15 Encounters, and his many pieces for Solo Percussion. The Southwest Chamber Music Society has performed and recorded 14 of the 15 Encounters. The success of this project is reflected in the comments of Mark Swed, chief music critic for the Los Angeles Times, Richard Ginell, critic for the American Record Guide and Jim Svejda, program host for the classical music station KUSC. Said Swed; "These works serve for Kraft the way the string quartet did for Beethoven or Shostakovitch, as a kind of autobiography in chamber music"; Ginell: "An epic body of work comparable to the Berio's Sequenzas"; and Svejda: "No one with the slightest interest in the music of out time can afford to be without this cornerstone of American chamber music."
Mr. Kraft was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Percussive Arts Society in 1990.