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Sergiu Luca (Violin)

Born: April 5, 1943 - Bucharest, Romania
Died: December 7, 2010 - Houston, Texas, USA

The noted Romanian-born American violinist, conductor and pedagogue, Sergiu Luca, He began his violin studies at age 4, and entered the Bucharest Conservatory at age 5. He moved to Israel with his family in 1950 (at age 7) and made his public debut as a soloist with the Haifa Symphony Orchestra in 1952 (at age 9). He continued his studies with Max Rostal in London, and at the Bern Condervatoire Switzerland (1958-1961), before Isaac Stern arranged for him to come to the USA to study with the legendary pedagogue Ivan Galamian at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia (1961-1963). Luca was s one of a handful of prodigies whom Isaac Stern helped bring from Israel to study in the USA - Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, and Shlomo Mintz are three others. None of them ever returned, except to play concerts or participate in music festivals now and then.

Sergiu Luca made his American debut playing Sibelius’ Violin Concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1965. Soon after he was chosen by Leonard Bernstein to play the same work with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra (February 13, 1965), though he only played the first movement of the concerto. It was for a special CBS television network tribute to the Finnish composer.on one of Leonard Bernstein’s televised Young People’s Concerts. Luca subsequently performed with considerable success with many of the world’s leading orchestras in Europe, Israel, Latin America, and the USA, including the Cleveland Orchestra, Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Houston Symphony Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, New Philharmonia Orchestra (London), and the Zürich Tonhalle Orchestra. In 1965 he became a naturalized American citizen. He made his New York recital debut at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in November 1969 playing W.A. Mozart, Johannes Brahms, Prokofiev and Janacek. In his review in The New York Times, Donal Henahan described Luca as “an uncommonly mature artist for a 25-year-old.”

As a recitalist, Sergiu Luca has performed in Europe, Mexico, Japan, and throughout North America. He has collaborated with such keyboard artists as Emanuel Ax, Malcolm Bilson, Brian Connelly, Anne Epperson, Albert Fuller, Joseph Kalichstein and Peter Serkin. “A fiddler’s fiddler” is how Luca was described by a reviewer in the Washington Post. This is typical praise for a concert personality who has enjoyed a worldwide career. He combines an unparalleled diversity of repertoire with inspired virtuosity as a soloist with orchestras and in annual recitals at major music centers around the world.

It was in New York that Sergiu Luca established his career, playing the virtuoso Romantic repertoire in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. He was renowned for the breadth of his repertoire from the Baroque to the contemporary eras and the elegance and warmth of his tone. His performances of early music were notable for their stylistic propriety. By the mid-1970’s Luca began experimenting with period instruments for performances of Baroque music. At the time, performing on 17th-century violins was the province of specialists, and to this day relatively few violinists move easily between Baroque and modern violins, which differ in string tension, timbres and bowing styles. In his early performances he tried to find common ground between Baroque and modern approaches:
“I do rely on scholarship to find out what I ought to be doing,” he told The New York Times in 1977. “But I’m not doing it to educate people, or to be authentic, or to be historically accurate. I simply believe that this is the only way to approach the true quality of sound of the Baroque period, and that sound is what suits the music best. Do you realize how much great music is never played, simply because it doesn’t sound right on modern instruments?”
Sergiu Luca was renowned as an early music pioneer who first introduced playing J.S. Bach's violin oeuvre on period instrument. His recording of these works, the first recording made on an original instrument, created a sensation and established his reputation as a leader of the original-instrument movement, and his performances and master-classes inspired a generation of young performers to pursue the study of early music. But if his period-instrument adventures won him considerable attention, Luca also remained a passionate performer of Romantic and contemporary works, played on a modern violin.
“My purpose is to broaden my scope as an artist, not to choose a corner to hide in,” he once told an interviewer who asked if he had hoped to specialize in Baroque music. “I want to get as close to as many different periods as I can, to embrace as large a repertory as possible, to be involved with all styles and musical ideas.”

Sergiu Luca also had a talent for organizing and programming. He founded several important chamber music festivals and ensembles. He founded the Chamber Music Northwest Summer Festival in Portland, Oregon in 1971 and ran the festival until 1980. He was one of the first artists to speak to audiences from the stage prior to concerts. Then was Professor of violin at the University of Illinois (1980-1983). In 1983 he became Professor of the violin and an artist in residence at the Shepherd School of Music at William Marsh Rice University and held this post until his death. In 1985 he started the Cascade Head Music Festival in Lincoln City on the Oregon Coast and directed it for 21 years.

In Houston Sergiu Luca was also Music Director of the Texas Chamber Orchestra from 1983 to 1986. In 1986 he founded the Da Camera Society to produce a series of thematically programmed concerts designed to attract new listeners to the concert hall. Hailed as his most ambitious and influential project, Da Camera was widely acclaimed for its innovative programming and has established itself as one of America's leading presenters and producers of ensemble music. Luca ran Da Camera until 1993, and along with some friends, he also founded in 1996 the chamber ensemble Context, which is devoted to the performance of small-ensemble music, both historical and modern, on instruments appropriate for each era.

Sergiu Luca’s many recordings attest to his sensitivity for varied styles and periods of music, including J.S. Bach and a portion of the romantic and 20th century repertoire He recorded on both Baroque and modern violins. He made a sensation with his recordings of the complete J.S. Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Unaccompanied Violin (BWV 1001-1006), the first rendering on an original instrument. On “The Devil’s Trill,” one of several recordings he made for Nonesuch, he gave spirited accounts of sonatas by Tartini, Nardini and Chabran, with the harpsichordist James Richman and the cellist Barbara Bogatin. He also devoted three discs to music by Louis Ferdinand, Prince of Prussia - a contemporary of L.v. Beethoven’s - along with works of Robert Schumann, performed with Context on the Zephyr label. In more conventional corners of the early repertoire, he recorded with the fortepianist Malcolm Bilson, a traversal of W.A. Mozart’s Sonatas for Violin and Piano. Along with his recordings of works by L.v. Beethoven, Dvorak, Janacek, Felix Mendelssohn, Schubert, Robert Schumann and Spohr, the highlights of his discography include his impassioned performances of the Béla Bartók Sonatas, as well as B. Bartók’s jazzy Contrasts, with the clarinetist David Shifrin and the pianist Paul Schoenfield, and a disc devoted to violin works of the American eclectic William Bolcom. Luca also recorded J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concertos with Pablo Casals. These recordings as well as orchestral recordings with Leonard Slatkin and the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and David Zinman and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, gained him international acclaim.

Sergiu Luca's favored instrument was the Earl of Falmouth violin by Carlo Bergonzi (1733); however, he also owned a large collection of violins, including ones by Sanctus Seraphin (1733), Antonio Stradivari (1713 - the Wirth Stradivarius), Nicolaus Sawicki (1829 - Paganini considered Sawicki a genius), Stefano Scarampela (1909), and Isabelle Wilbaux (2008 - Canadian luthier.) He was quoted in The Houston Chronicle (by Tara Dooley-July, 2008) as saying, about violins, "They are sort of a human thing that is somewhere between something alive and something that is inanimate." Sergiu Luca died of cholangiocarcinoma at his home in Houston, Texas, at the age of 67. He is survived by his wife, Susan Archibald, and their 4-year-old daughter, Lily.

Source: Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians (1997); Wikipedia Website (August 2012); Obituary in New York Time (Author: Allan Kozinn, December 9, 2010); Shepherd School of Music Website; Prone to Violins Blog
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (December 2012)

Sergiu Luca: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works | Recordings of Vocal Works

Links to other Sites

Sergiu Luca (Wikipedia)
Sergiu Luca (Shepherd School of Music)
Sergiu Luca (Nonesuch Records)

Sergiu Luca, Violinist and Festival Founder, Dies (NY Times)
Sergiu Luca, founder of Chamber Music Northwest, dies of cancer (Oregon Performing Arts)
Sergiu Luca (Prone to Violins)

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