Henri Lazarof was a prolific contemporary composer and music educator. He completed his studies in composition at Brandeis University before joining the musical faculty at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he taught and composed until 1982. After retiring, he continued to compose and support the arts until his passing in 2013.
Lazarof was born in Sofia, Bulgaria in 1932. He began playing the piano from a young age, and started his education at the Lycee Francais school, graduating in 1948. Soon after, he moved to Tel Aviv in 1949, where he studied with prominent Israeli composer Paul Ben-Haim. He was then awarded Israel’s first musical scholarship, which allowed him to pursue further studies in composition with Goffredo Petrassi at Saint Cecilia Academy in Rome. He earned another scholarship to complete his musical education at Brandeis in 1957. Here, he studied under Arthur Berger and Harold Shapero and earned his MFA in 1959.
Lazarof’s time at Brandeis was active and impactful. He assertively pursued musical opportunities during this time, and in 1958 he directed the Cambridge Jewish Community Center Choral Group. In the same year, his String Quartet won First Prize from the Brookline Library Musical Association, and he was commissioned by the Harvard Musical Association. In 1959, his Cantata was performed at the first Student Compositions Concert at the Bernstein Arts Festival, and his works were also featured in Brandeis’ Helmsley Interfaith Concerts. Outside of music, Lazarof participated in the French Club at Brandeis.
After graduating and becoming a naturalized US citizen in 1959, he began to work at UCLA. Though his first position was as a French professor, he transitioned to teaching music composition in 1962. In this role, he supported music events such as the university’s Contemporary Music Festival, all while pursuing his own composition work. He continued to teach until 1987, at which point he retired to the position of Professor Emeritus and pursued composition full-time.
During his professorship, as in his creative process, Lazarof never remained static. He took a sabbatical in London from 1968 to 1969, spent time as the Composer-in-Residence in West Berlin in 1971, and received the Composer/Librettist Fellowship Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1979. That same year, he also spent time as the Composer-in-Residence at the Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts. He often conducted performances of his own works, particularly premieres.
His works were commissioned, recorded, and premiered by orchestras, soloists, and ensembles across the United States and around the world. These relationships took his music to places such as Seattle, New York, Salt Lake City, and as far as London, Oslo, and Tokyo. Among his accolades are the First International Prize of the Prince Rainier Prize (for Concerto for Violin and Orchestra) in 1962, the first International Prize La Scala Award from the City of Milan (for Structures Sonores) in 1968, and a Grammy Award nomination (for Tableaux (After Kandinsky)) in 1991. Another prize in his career was the network of lasting relationships he built with talented ensembles and musicians across the globe. Prominent among these connections was his relationship with composer and Utah Symphony Orchestra conductor Maurice Abravanel, from whom Lazarof gained much inspiration and for whose orchestra he composed commissioned pieces.
Over the course of his life, Lazarof published 126 compositions. This prolific catalog includes symphonies, quartets, concertos, and pieces for orchestra, chamber orchestra, small ensembles, mixed chorus, and solo instruments. Lazarof’s works tend to feature technically challenging passages and unique combinations of instruments playing a large range of textures, dynamics, and rhythms. His style was in a constant state of evolution, never lingering long in one niche and always pushing boundaries—for musicians, and for himself. This pattern of creative development has allowed him to leave a mark in many areas of contemporary music.
"Henri Lazarof." New York Times, December 31, 2013
Levin, Neil W. "Henri Lazarof (1932-2013)." Milken Archive