Composers Datebook®

Lou Harrison's "Pacifika Rondo"

Composers Datebook - May 26, 2024


British poet Rudyard Kipling wrote: “Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.”

But on today’s date in 1963, East did meet West at the premiere performance of a musical work by the American composer Lou Harrison, Pacifika Rondo Written for an Orchestra of Western and Oriental Instruments, at the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii.

For Lou Harrison, it was just one more stop on a journey he had begun decades earlier.

In the spring of 1935, when he was a teenager, Lou Harrison enrolled in a course called “Music of the Peoples of the World” at the University of California extension in San Francisco. The course was taught by American composer Henry Cowell, who became Harrison’s composition teacher. Cowell urged his pupils to explore non-Western musical traditions and forms. Javanese gamelan music became a big influence in Harrison’s music, and, in 1961-62, a Rockefeller Foundation grant made it possible for him to study Asian music in Korea.

The movements of Harrison’s “Pacifika Rondo” refer to various sections of the Pacific Basin.

“In composing Pacifika Rondo,” wrote Harrison, “I have thought, with love, around the circle of the Pacific.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Lou Harrison (1917-2003): Pacifica Rondo; Oakland Youth Orchestra; Robert Hughes, conductor; Phoenix 118

On This Day


  • 1893 - British composer and conductor Sir Eugene Goosens, in London

  • 1898 - American composer, pianist and conductor Ernst Bacon, in Chicago

  • 1938 - American composer and pianist William Bolcom, in Seattle


  • 1924 - Irish-born American composer and cellist Victor Herbert, 65, in New York


  • 1914 - Stravinsky: opera, Le Rossignol (The Nightingale), at the Paris Opéra, with Pierre Monteux conducting

  • 1919 - Gershwin: musical La, La, Lucille, at the Henry Miller Theater in New York City

  • 1923 - Edward Joseph Collins: Tragic Overture (1914) and "Mardi Gras" performed at Northwestern University by the Chicago Symphony under Frederick Stock as part of the finalists' concert of the North Shore Festival competition for new works for orchestra. Collins won the $1000 first prize for his Tragic Overture (1914).

  • 1953 - Stockhausen: Kontra-Punkte for ten instruments, in Cologne

  • 1963 - Lou Harrison: Pacifika Rondo for an orchestra of Western and Oriental instruments, at the University of Hawaii

  • 1964 - Copland: Music for a Great City (from the film score to Something Wild), by the London Symphony conducted by the composer

  • 1967 - George Crumb: Echoes of Time and the River (Four Processionals for Orchestra), in Chicago. This work won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1967.

  • 1990 - Philip Glass: chamber opera Hydrogen Jukebox (to poems by Allen Ginsberg), by the Philip Glass ensemble conducted by Martin Goldray, in a staged version presented at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina. A concert version was premiered at the American Music Theater Festival in Philadelphia, on April 29, 1990.

  • 2001 - Birtwistle: Tango for Betty, dedicated to the 80-year old music patron, Betty Freeman, by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting (see May 25 & 27 as well)

  • 2002 - Henry Brant: Ghosts and Gargoyles for solo flute and flute ensemble, in Toronto, Canada, by soloist Robert Aitken and the New Music Concerts Ensemble, conducted by the composer


  • 1731 - London’s Academy for Vocal Music is renamed The Academy of Ancient Music, with Johann Christoph Pepsuch its artistic director (Gregorian date: June 6).

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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