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date: 19 February 2020

Mosko, Stephen

  • James Chute

(b Denver, 7 Dec 1947; d Green Valley, CA, 5 Dec 2005). Composer and conductor. He studied conducting with Antonia Brico, whose tutelage and encouragement was a decisive influence. While still in high school in Denver, where he was a jazz drummer, he played timpani in her community orchestra and she introduced him to the music of the great composers of the 18th and 19th centuries. He attended Yale University (BA 1969), where he encountered the work of Anton Webern, whose influence was also significant. At Yale, he co-founded the experimental ensemble Not Morton Baby with his brother Martin Mosko and Burr Van Nostrand and studied conducting with Gustave Meier and composition with Donald Martino and Mel Powell. When Powell left Yale to become founding dean of the department of music at the California Institute of the Arts in 1970, Mosko followed him to CalArts, where he studied with Powell, Leonard Stein, and Morton Subotnick, and joined the faculty soon after graduating in CalArt’s inaugural class (MFA 1972). With the exception of a brief appointment as visiting professor at Harvard (1990–91), he spent his entire teaching career at CalArts (1972–2005), although he was affiliated with the University of Chicago as music director of the Contemporary Chamber Players (1995–8) and was principal conductor of the Griffin Music Ensemble in Boston (1990–92). He was a figure of considerable influence in Los Angeles, both as a highly regarded composer with a distinct, individual voice, and as an expert conductor dedicated to championing the music of several generations of American composers, from Morton Feldman to Rand Steiger, then one of Mosko’s CalArts students. Mosko founded the CalArts Twentieth Century Players (1973–85), co-founded the Repercussion Unit (1976–2005), a Los Angeles-based percussion ensemble, and frequently conducted the California EAR Unit, whose founding members were his CalArts students, including Steiger. Mosko married the EAR Unit’s founding flutist, Dorothy Stone (1958–2008), who was a sensitive interpreter and strong advocate of his music. He served as music director of the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival, where he conducted the US première of Stockhausen’s ‘Sternklang’, the 1987 Los Angeles Festival, which celebrated the music of John Cage, and the 1990 Ojai Festival, where his typically eclectic, wide-ranging programming included works by Elliott Carter (the festival’s composer-in-residence), Steve Reich, Frederic Rzewski, Steiger, Subotnick, and John Adams. He guest conducted the Los Angeles PO and the San Francisco SO, and was music director of the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players (1988–97).

Mosko, whom friends, family, and colleagues called ‘Lucky’, a name given him at birth by his father, demonstrated an uncommonly broad range of musical interests, ranging from post-Webern European art music to Icelandic folk music, for the study of which he was awarded two Senior Fulbright-Hays Fellowships (1974, 1978) to visit Iceland. The result was Kvædaskapur: Icelandic Epic Song, based on the research of Hreinen Steingrímsson, which he and Stone co-edited. That range of interests was reflected in the works he studied, performed, and conducted, but also in his own music, which was commissioned by the Fromm Music Foundation (Superliminal Connections I: The Atu of Tahuti, 1985; String Quartet, 1998), the Sacramento PO (A Garden of Time, 1989), the Arnold Schoenberg Institute (Schweres Loos, part of the Institute’s Pierrot Project, 1988), and the Southwest Chamber Music Society (Psychotropics, 1994; Rupuze, 1997).

With Indigenous Music II (1984), one of several pieces written for the California EAR Unit (the work’s third movement is dedicated to Stone), Mosko acknowledges the influence of Icelandic folk music in a programme note and also cites ‘Sufi ceremonies, Morton Feldman, Milton Babbitt, John Cage, Elliott Carter, Indian music, the Carter Family, Janis Joplin, the Repercussion Unit, particle physics, etc.’. Influenced by Stockhausen’s moment form, Mosko’s meticulously constructed pieces eschew development in favour of a succession of musical gestures that challenge listeners’ perceptions of time and space. There is also an unmistakable element of humour in his highly personal works that reflects a generous and openhearted spirit. His final pieces are musical journals, with, in his words, ‘neither real beginning, nor conclusion’. The first, J (2003), was inspired by the Druid alphabet and his travels and experiences with the California EAR Unit. His final completed work, Thea’s Tune (2005) was written for Stone for their wedding anniversary.

His archives, which include extensive correspondence with the many composers he conducted (Stockhausen, Cage, and Feldman are among the correspondents), original manuscripts of his work, and documents, charts, and scores showing the extensive preparation and analysis that informed his conducing and composing, are at Harvard University’s Loeb Music Library.



Superluminal Connections I: The Atu of Tahuti, 1985

A Garden of Time, 1989

Transliminal Music, 1992


Night of the Long Knives (Mosko), S, cl + b cl, hn, perc, pf, gui, hp, vn, vc, 1974

Indigenous Music I (Mosko), solo vv, SATB, 1980

Schweres Loos (A. Giraud), A, pic, vn, b cl, 1988

Chamber and solo instrumental

Lovely Mansions, nar, fl + 1v, cl, a sax, perc, pf, gui, hp, 2 va, vc, 1971

Karinhall, pf, 1972

Darling, db, 1976

Three Clerks in Niches, 2 vn, va, 4 vc, pf, 1976

The Cosmology of Easy Listening, 3 perc, 1978

Rais murad, vc, pf, 1978

Indigenous Music II, pic + fl + a fl, ob + eng hn, cl + b cl, pf 4 hands + elec org, 3 perc, str, 1984, arr. fl/pf

The Road to Tiphareth, pic + fl + a fl, cl + b cl, 2 perc, 2 pf, vn + va, vc, 1986

For Morton Feldman, pic + fl + a fl, vc, pf, 1987

Movable Doe, fl + a fl, ob + eng hn, trbn, perc, pf, vn, vc, 1990

Psychotropes, pic + fl, cl + b cl, perc, pf, vn, vc, 1993

Psychotropics, pic + fl + b fl, ob + eng hn, hn, va, pf, 1994

Rendering, pf, 1995

Bow-Vine, vn, 1996

Rupuze, fl, gui, 1997

Str Qt, 1998

J, chbr ens, 2003

Thea’s Tune, 2005, fl, pf, clay pot, 2005

Principal publisher: Leisure Planet


  • J. Woodard: ‘A Lucky Man: Composer, Conductor, Teacher Stephen “Lucky” Mosko Celebrates a Life of Music-Making all over Town’, The Los Angeles Times (8 Feb 1998)
  • R. Steiger: ‘Obituary: Stephen “Lucky” Mosko’, New Music Box (9 Dec 2005)
  • R. Steiger: ‘Dorothy Stone: a Remembrance’, New Music Box (17 March 2008)