Stephen ‘Lucky’ Mosko, 58; Composer Was a Mentor to New Music Performers

Times Staff Writer

Stephen “Lucky” Mosko, a composer, conductor and mentor to several generations of new music performers, has died. He was 58.

Mosko died Tuesday of unknown causes at his home in Green Valley, Calif., said his wife, flutist Dorothy Stone.

For more than three decades, Mosko taught at CalArts in Valencia, where he was a member of the inaugural class in 1972 and helped found the California EAR Unit, a new music group.

He was music director of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Arts Festival’s Contemporary Music Festival and the 1987 Los Angeles Festival, celebrating composer John Cage.


For 10 years, Mosko also served as music director of the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players and was principal conductor of the Griffin Ensemble of Boston.

“His most special quality was his extremely warm and generous good nature, which came accompanied by an extraordinary enthusiasm for penetrating the most abstruse and difficult contemporary scores,” said composer John Adams, who began working with Mosko in the early 1980s.

“He had an enormous intellect and power of analysis, but he never, ever used that intellectual force to show off or to intimidate anyone. He was always extremely humble and self-effacing.”

Times music critic Mark Swed said that, although Mosko was a gifted conductor, his composing career never took off.


“Though a composer with a strong sonic vision, his music was written in an abstract style that has gone out of fashion,” Swed said. “But he was beloved for all the right reasons, including for being an inspiring teacher.”

Stephen L. Mosko was born Dec. 7, 1947, in Denver, and was nicknamed “Lucky” by his parents at an early age.

“My family was always into nicknames and gambling,” he told The Times in 1998. “They figured that, if they gave me this name, it might bring luck to everyone.”

His early musical brilliance was recognized and nurtured by emigre conductor Antonia Brico, with whom he studied conducting and piano.

He received a bachelor’s degree from Yale University in 1969 and began graduate studies there.

But when composer Mel Powell, one of his teachers, left to become the founding dean of the CalArts School of Music, Mosko followed him, studying with Powell, Morton Subotnick and Leonard Stein.

After earning his master’s degree at CalArts, Mosko became a faculty member, teaching there until his death except for two years in the late 1980s when he was on the faculty of Harvard.

“He was a devoted teacher,” said David Rosenboom, dean of the CalArts School of Music. “He used to surprise students with things like strange exams where they would be given a scenario like ‘John Cage, Morton Feldman and Milton Babbitt are caught in an elevator and they have to talk about something. How would you script that situation?’ ”


Students, Rosenboom said, “would have to prove how much they knew in some insightful way.”

Mosko’s compositions, which composer Rand Steiger described as “delicate, intricate and demonstrating a very personal and unique style,” have been performed by the San Francisco and Sacramento symphonies, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, SONOR and the EAR Unit, among others. Steiger, a former student and colleague of Mosko, said he is writing a memorial piece for him.

Mosko was a leading expert on the folk music of Iceland, having received two senior Fulbright/Hayes fellowships to do research there.

He also received a National Endowment for the Arts Composers Fellowship, two Broadcast Music Inc. awards and a Fromm Foundation award.

In addition to his wife, Mosko is survived by his father, Aaron Mosko of Denver; and brother, Martin Mosko of Boulder, Colo.

Memorial contributions can be made to the CalArts Scholarship Fund, California Institute of the Arts, 24700 McBean Parkway, Valencia, CA 91355.