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Da Camera Founder

Violin virtuoso and Houston music pioneer Sergiu Luca dies

Few people have had much of an impact on Houston's musical spectrum as Sergiu Luca, a virtuoso violinist who died on Monday night of bile duct cancer.

Luca, 67, was the founder of Da Camera, the former director of the Texas Chamber Orchestra and a professor of violin at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music, among his many other accomplishments.

Born in Romania in 1943 to a family of accountants, Luca picked up the violin at the age of 4 after being tutored by a gypsy. Moving to Israel, Luca made his debut at the Haifa Symphony at 9.

After stints in England and Switzerland, he came to America to study under the legendary Ivan Galamian at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Joining the Philadelphia Orchestra as a soloist in 1965, he performed with orchestras throughout Europe, Latin America and the United States, including an appearance on CBS to play the Sibelius Concerto with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

But it was Luca's recording of the complete violin works of Johann Sebastian Bach on period instruments that made him a sensation of the classical music world and established him as a leader in the original-instrument movement, though he also collaborated successfully on many contemporary works.

Luca founded Portland's Chamber Music Northwest in 1971 and helmed the organization for a decade. He was director of Houston's Texas Chamber Orchestra from 1983 to 1986, when he founded the Cascade Head Music Festival on the Oregon Coast.

In 1988 he founded the Da Camera Society of Houston, his most influential and ambitious project, receiving critical acclaim as Artistic Director for its innovative thematic programming and audacious juxtapositions. He left the organization in the 1994 as a result of conflict with the board of directors.

As the Dorothy Richard Starling Professor of Violin at Rice's Shepherd School of Music, Luca developed many close mentoring relationships with students who have gone on to perform in local groups like Ars Lyrica and Mercury Baroque, as well as important orchestras worldwide. Famed for lending from his extensive collection of world-class historic violins to promising students, Luca was also the motivating force behind Rice's purchase and creation of nationally-renowned collection of 19th century pianos and organs.

"Obviously it's an immeasurable loss," said Shepherd School of Music dean Robert Yekovich. "Sergiu was a pillar of the faculty, a major force in the violin division, a prestigious artist and a gifted teacher. He had a tried a true method he developed that concentrated a great deal of attention on a student. Working with Sergiu meant a great deal of personal attention, and the amount of time he was willing to put in was part of what made him such an outstanding teacher."

At Rice, Luca also co-founded Context, a chamber ensemble devoted to historic and modern small-group performances on historically appropriate instruments, in 1996.

Luca is survived by his wife, Susan Archibald, and his daughter Lily.

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