Michael Eagan, 55; Lute Player Helped Found Early Music Ensemble

Times Staff Writer

Classical musician and composer Michael Eagan, who co-founded Musica Angelica, a highly regarded early music group based in Los Angeles, has died. He was 55.

Eagan died of an apparent heart attack this week at his home in Los Angeles, according to Laura Spino, administrative director of Musica Angelica. His body was found Wednesday but the coroner's office had not yet determined the day he died.

Widely considered one of the foremost lute players in the country, Eagan performed and recorded with a variety of chamber orchestras, including San Francisco's Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and the Boston Baroque Orchestra. As a soloist, he appeared with several leading early music conductors, among them Christopher Hogwood of the Academy of Ancient Music and Ton Koopman of the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra.

Eagan founded Musica Angelica in 1993 with Mark Chatfield, a baroque cello player he met at an early music festival in Los Angeles. Their group quickly expanded its performance schedule, appearing regularly at All Saints Church in Beverly Hills, the Norton Simon Museum of Art in Pasadena, the Colburn School of Performing Arts' Zipper Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles and UCLA's Schoenberg Hall.

"Michael Eagan's group is a shining early music star of Southern California," said John Alexander, conductor of the Pacific Chorale, who collaborated with Eagan and Musica Angelica for several concerts with his John Alexander Singers. "The group has been in the process of becoming one of the nation's most respected early music ensembles," Alexander said Friday.

Musica Angelica has increasingly attracted important guest performers, notably Italian conductor and flutist Giovanni Antonini in 2002. It often premiered contemporary music with an early music sound, or sensibility, including a number of works by Eagan.

"Michael was a very talented composer," said Ian Krouse, chairman of the classical music department at UCLA and one of Eagan's teachers. "He combined early music with jazz and a Nashville sound. He liked to juxtapose the new and the old."

As the group's reputation grew, it was invited to play its period replicas in a 1997 Los Angeles Opera production of Claudio Monteverdi's "The Return of Ulysses" and a 1998 Long Beach Opera production of Henry Purcell's "The Indian Queen." It also recorded its first CD, "Vivaldi Concertos for Lute, Oboe, Violin and Strings."

Just as the ensemble hit its stride in 1998, Chatfield died of lymphoma. Eagan became the artistic and musical director and the group forged on.

Born in Berkeley, Eagan moved to Los Angeles with his family when he was a teenager. He graduated from the Royal Conservatory of Music in The Hague, the Netherlands.

At first, he planned to be a classical guitarist but changed his mind after attending a concert by guitarist and lutenist Julian Bream. The first half of the program was devoted to music played on a Renaissance lute. "It completely charmed me," Eagan said. "Now, I don't remember the second half of the concert at all, but the first half was the spark."

Eagan is survived by his mother, Eleanor, of Los Angeles, his sister, Wendy, of Simi Valley, and his son, Tomas, who lives in Norway.

Contributions in his name may be made to Musica Angelica, c/o First United Methodist Church, 1008 11th St., No. 301, Santa Monica, CA 90403.

A musical tribute in his honor is being planned for later this summer. Details will be posted on the group's website, www. musicaangelica.org

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