Distinguished composer, musician, educator, and inspiration, William Kraft was born in Chicago, IL, on September 6, 1923 and grew up in San Diego, CA. After serving in the United States Air Force for three years, Kraft was awarded two Anton Seidl Fellowships at Columbia University, graduating with a bachelor’s degree cum laude in 1951, and a master’s degree in composition in 1954. He received his training in percussion from Morris Goldenberg and in timpani from Saul Goodman, and studied conducting with Rudolph Thomas and Fritz Zweig.
After spending a year with the Dallas Symphony, Kraft moved to Los Angeles and became a member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1955, first as a section percussionist, then as Principal Timpanist. During his early years in Los Angeles, Kraft organized and directed the Los Angeles Percussion Ensemble, a group that played a vital part in premieres and recordings of works by such renowned composers as Ginastera, Harrison, Krenek, Stravinsky, and Varèse. 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 maître, in addition to recording L’Histoire du soldat under Stravinsky’s direction.
From 1981-85, Kraft was the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Composer-in-Residence and the founding director of the orchestra’s performing arm for contemporary music, the Philharmonic New Music Group. For three seasons, he was also assistant conductor of the orchestra under Zubin Mehta, and thereafter, a frequent guest conductor. Kraft 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.
Kraft has received numerous awards and commissions, including two Kennedy Center Friedheim Awards; two Guggenheim Fellowships; awards from National Endowment for the Arts; the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Music Award; the ASCAP Award; commissions from the Library of Congress, Kronos Quartet, the Schoenberg Institute, consortium of Speculum Musicae/San Francisco Contemporary Music Players’ Contemporary Music Forum, the Boston Pops Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, among others. His works have been performed by the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and many other U.S. orchestras as well as major orchestras in Europe, Japan, Korea, China, Australia, Israel, etc. William Kraft compositions are published by Theodore Presser, and recordings can be found on iTunes, Spotify, etc.
Kraft passed away on February 12, 2022. For the 2023 Kraft Centennial Anniversary, there will be several tributes and performances taking place around the country: Timpani Concerto No. 1 will be performed by the Chicago Symphony; Kaleidoscope-Mosaic (an unfinished work to be completed by his widow, Joan Huang) will be performed on a Jacaranda series concert; and a special tribute concert presented on February 11, 2023 by the Hear Now Music Festival. Read more about that concert here