Early life and education (1923–54)
Kraft was born in Chicago, Illinois. He 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 1954. He studied composition with Jack Beeson and Henry Cowell, orchestration with Henry Brant, percussion with Morris Goldenberg, timpani from Saul Goodman, and conducting with Rudolph Thomas and Fritz Zweig.
During his years in New York, Kraft was also active as a freelance musician and had the privilege of working with some of the most well known musicians of the mid-twentieth century. Kraft thoroughly enjoyed doing freelance work. Among his gigs, he played as an extra percussionist for the Metropolitan Opera and played percussion and conducted for Ondine.[clarification needed]
In 1954, Kraft joined the Dallas Symphony. After only one season there, he moved to Los Angeles.
Los Angeles Philharmonic years (1955–85) and thereafter
He took a position with the Los Angeles Philharmonic beginning in the 1955/56 season. He spent 25 years in the orchestra, the first eight as a member of the percussion section, and the remaining 17 as principal timpanist. Kraft was also the assistant conductor of the orchestra for 3 seasons under Zubin Mehta. From 1981 to 1985, Kraft was the Composer-in-Residence for the orchestra, during which time he was also responsible for the founding and directing of the Philharmonic’s New Music Group.
During his early years in Los Angeles, he organized and directed the Los Angeles Percussion Ensemble, a group which played a vital part in premieres and recordings of works by such renowned composers as Ginastera, Harrison, Krenek, Stravinsky, Varèse, and many others. As percussion soloist, he performed the American premieres of Stockhausen’s Zyklus and Boulez’s Le marteau sans maître, in addition to recording Histoire du soldat under Stravinsky’s direction.
He served as chairman of the composition department and holder of the Corwin Chair at the University of California, Santa Barbara until he retired in June 2002.
Commissions and awards
Kraft has received numerous awards and commissions, including two Kennedy Center Friedheim Awards (first prize in 1990 for Veils and Variations for Horn and Orchestra, and second prize in 1984 for Concerto for Timpani and Orchestra); two Guggenheim Fellowships; two Ford Foundation commissions; fellowships from the Huntington Hartford Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts; the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Music Award; the Norlin/MacDowell Fellowship; the Club 100 Distinguished Artist of Los Angeles Award; the ASCAP Award, the NACUSA Award; the Eva Judd O'Meara Award; first place in the Contemporary Record Society Competition; commissions from the Library of Congress, U.S. Air Force Band, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Kronos Quartet, Voices of Change, the Schoenberg Institute, consortium of Speculum Musicae/San Francisco Contemporary Music Players/Contemporary Music Forum, The Boston Pops Orchestra, consortium of Pacific Symphony/Spokane Symphony/Tucson Symphony, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, among others.
His works have been performed by many major American orchestras as well as those in Europe, Japan, Korea, China, Australia, Israel, and the USSR. Kraft's Contextures: Riots – Decade '60 (1967) has been choreographed and performed by both the Scottish National Ballet and the Minnesota Dance Company. In 1986, United Airlines commissioned a work expressly to accompany a lumetric sculpture by Michael Hayden titled Sky's the Limit, for their pedestrian passageway at Chicago-O'Hare International Airport. In November 1990, Kraft was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Percussive Arts Society.
Compact discs completely devoted to Kraft’s music can be found on Harmonia Mundi, CRI, Cambria, Crystal, Albany, and Nonesuch labels. Other works can be found on GM, Crystal, London Decca, Townhall, EMI, and Neuma. Recent works include Brazen, commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra; Quintessence Revisited and Concerto for Four Percussion Soloists and Symphonic Wind Ensemble, premiered and recorded by the New England Conservatory Wind Ensemble, Frank Battisti conducting. His 'Encounter' solo series has been recorded multiple time on all appropriate instruments. On Encounters he worked with guitarist John Schneider. Encounters II showcases unique techniques for tuba such as multi-phonics double pedal range. In 2010, the Los Angeles Philharmonic released a recording on DG Concerts of the Timpani Concerto No. 1 featuring Joseph Pereira as soloist with John Adams conducting.
- Encounters, (Cambria, 2009)[full citation needed], Latin Grammy nomination for Best Classical Album
- Encounters II, (Cambria)[full citation needed]
- William Kraft's page at Theodore Presser Company
- William Kraft @ Los Angeles Times
- William Kraft on IMDb
- Detailed biography on Music Academy Online
- Art of the States: William Kraft
- Theodore Presser Company page for William Kraft
- Interview with William Kraft, May, 1988
- NAMM Oral History Interview November 9, 2006