When it comes to exploring music from other cultures, our ears are open wider now than ever before, thanks in part to YouTube and streaming services. But there’s someone else to thank: composer Lou Harrison, who was born 100 years ago on May 14, 1917. Often called an “American maverick,” Harrison blended Eastern and Western traditions in his music, practicing a kind of “cross-culturalism” long before it was fashionable.
Harrison was born in Portland, Ore., and the Asian decor his mother chose for their home was his first window into the East. Later, when the family moved to San Francisco, Harrison the teenager spent his nights at the opera. Not Puccini or Verdi — the Chinese opera. Eventually, you could hear Asia bubbling up in his music.