Sergiu Luca, a teacher, concert presenter and violin virtuoso known for his trend-setting performances on period instruments, died Monday night. He was 67 and had thrash about with bile-duct cancer since December 2009, though his health started to decline only in the past few months.
Luca made an indelible impression on the music landscape in Houston and the United States as the founder of Da Camera of Houston, a concert series pioneering in its approach to thematic programming. As a performer and recording artist, he is credited with being on the forefront of a movement dedicated to performing early music on instruments authentic to the time the works were composed.
Until his death, Luca was the Dorothy Richard Starling professor of violin at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music and artistic director of Context, a chamber music concert series.
He was known for his big personality and varied interests. Luca was an avid collector of period instruments, a fine cook and wine connoisseur who had traveled much of the world as a performer.
"He was a Renaissance man in certain respects," said Robert Yekovich, dean of the Shepherd School. "What really fueled his artistry was his appetite for in-depth knowledge about a number of different things."
Luca was born in 1943 in Bucharest, Romania, and began playing the violin as a child. He made his debut with the Haifa Symphony Orchestra in Israel at age 9. He studied in England and Switzerland before moving to the United States to study with legendary Ivan Galamian at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
During his career, Luca performed with many of the world’s leading orchestras and gave recitals internationally. He recorded works by composers including Bartók, Schumann, Schubert and William Bolcom. Luca had a long friendship and musical exchange with Bolcom.
His recording of the complete solo violin works by J.S. Bach was influential because he performed the pieces on a Baroque violin, which was considered revolutionary at the time.
"His recordings and performances back in the 1970s or so were sensational," said Brian Connelly, a co-founder of Context. "They immediately altered so many perceptions."
At the same time, Luca was an advocate of contemporary music.
"He was that kind of broad thinker," Yekovich said. "He was not … just a musician, but a great artist." In addition to his influence as a performer and teacher, Luca started multiple concert series in Oregon and Houston. In 1987, he founded Da Camera of Houston, an ambitious project aimed at bringing innovative thematic programs to the city. He was artistic director for six seasons.
"He was the vision behind Da Camera," said Sarah Loudermilk, Da Camera’s current executive director.
In 1995, Luca and friends founded Context, an ensemble dedicated to performing on period instruments, often from his collection. Luca was a frequent performer with the group and last appeared on a program in October, Connelly said.
Luca was married to Susan Archibald, a pianist and accompanist at the Shepherd School. He is survived by Archibald and their daughter, Lily Luca. Arrangements are pending for a memorial service in Houston.
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