Lukas turns 50th birthday into six-month celebration


LUKAS Ligeti celebrates his 50th birthday on June 13. But the Vienna-born musician started the celebrations in January - and he is sharing the partying with a number of events.

At the start of the year, the percussionist released his trio Hypercolor's eponymously-titled debut CD on Tzadik and followed it with Imaginary Images, a duet with pianist Thollem McDonas on Leo Records.

From Tuesday, he will be in residence at New York City's The Stone for six nights and, in the second week of June, the Austrian Cultural Forum will present many of his pieces written for classical musicians, culminating in a concert of chamber orchestra works on June 14 at Roulette, New York.

"I think a 50th birthday is a big event in anyone's life," Lukas told me. "I had been talking with the Austrian Cultural Forum about a festival of my music for a while, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity."

Releasing two CDs in such a short space of time might seem problematic, but each one was recorded pretty quickly.

Lukas said: "I work with a wide variety of projects and bands all the time, and when a project reaches a certain level of maturity, it seems logical to record it.

"Sometimes it's also interesting to record first encounters, spontaneously, as was the case with Imaginary Images.

He claimed the Imaginary Images album took 'just a few hours" to record, while "Hypercolor took two or three days, with considerable time invested into mixing afterwards, plus rehearsing beforehand".

New York City-based Lukas, the son of composer György Ligeti, studied composition and percussion at the University for Music and Performing Arts in Vienna and then moved to America, spending two years at the Centre for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics at Stanford University before settling in New York in 1998.

His CV includes a Who's Who of classical and new wave artists.

Among those he has worked with are Kronos Quartet, John Zorn, Gary Lucas, Benoit Delbecq and Jim O'Rourke.

In 1994, he was commissioned by the Goethe Institute to work with musicians in the Ivory Coast.

This led to a love affair with African music.

He has worked with Batonka musicians in Zimbabwe; collaborated with Nubian musicians in Egypt, as well as composing a piece for musicians from various Caribbean cultures, which premiered in Miami Beach.

In 2005, Lukas performed at the Unyazi festival in Johannesburg, the first electronic experimental music festival in Africa, and, in 2006, he was composer-in-residence at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

The following year, he collaborated with the Ndere Troupe in Uganda and then taught composition at the University of Ghana at Legon (Accra).

Five years ago, he collaborated with musicians in Lesotho, focusing on the lesiba, a rare traditional instrument that is in danger of extinction.

Lukas told me that having a famous father was more of an 'impediment' than a help.

"People have certain expectations of me," he said, "they often secretly hope my music will sound just like my father's. But I'm a different person, with my own ideas.

"The main thing I learned from my father was to always do your best and be yourself, as original as possible."

Lukas' mother, Vera, is a psychoanalyst in Vienna.

"She loves to listen to music but isn't active in it," he said.

In 1944, Transylvania-born György was sent to a forced labour brigade by the Horthy regime. His 16-year-old brother was deported to the Mauthausen concentration camp, and both his parents were sent to Auschwitz.

His mother was the only other survivor of his immediate family.

Following the war, György - who died the day before Lukas' 41st birthday -returned to his studies in Budapest, graduating in 1949 from the Franz Liszt Academy of Music.

In December 1956, two months after the Hungarian revolution was violently suppressed by the Soviet army, György fled to Vienna with his ex-wife Vera - whom he remarried - and took Austrian citizenship 12 years later.

Lukas claims to have no religion, but is proud of his heritage.

"I always knew I was Jewish," he said, "but my family has been non-religious, assimilated Jews for many generations, as was quite common in central Europe.

"I have a heritage, to which I feel connected, but I am an atheist.

"Interestingly, I have come in closer touch with Jewish ways of life through Africa. I'm working on a PhD in South Africa, and my dissertation adviser, Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph, is a Lubavitcher.

"She and her family are very dear friends and it is through them that I've received more exposure to living Jewish traditions."

He added: "I'll have another opportunity to acquaint myself more closely with my Jewish heritage in November when I'll be artist-in-residence at the museum of the history of Polish Jews in Warsaw.

"I'm also preparing a piece for the celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the Jewish ghetto in Venice."

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