Composer As Conduit

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Award winning composer Gunther Schuller will lecture for Stamps Distinguished Visitors Series and participate in several concerts at Festival Miami 2011.

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Schuller wrote his Concerto No 1 for Horn and Orchestra when he was 19 years old, but the first recording of the piece took place decades later. His choice for featured player was Frost faculty artist, Richard Todd (pictured above). More...

Pulitzer Prize winning composer Gunther Schuller will spend three days at the Frost School of Music lecturing as a 2011 Stamps Distinguished Visitor on September 30, hearing his Horn Concerto No. 1 performed by faculty artist Richard Todd and the Frost Symphony Orchestra at Festival Miami on October 1, and conducting a famed Third Stream classical-jazz work by Milhaud with the Frost Chamber Players on October 2. Visit www.festivalmiami.com for details and ticket information.

September 14, 2011 — By Fernando Gonzalez — Not many musicians can boast of playing under the baton of masters such as Arturo Toscanini,  Frederic “Fritz” Reiner, and Pierre Monteux; recording with Miles Davis; writing magisterial books on conducting (The Compleat Conductor) and jazz history (Early Jazz: Its Roots and Development, and The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz 1930-45). And, at the same time, develop transcendent careers as a teacher, record producer, publisher, and arts administrator – all while also composing symphonic works, chamber music and a fusion of European classical music and jazz of his own making that he once defined as Third Stream.

Then again, there is only one Gunther Schuller.

Asked how he did it all, he once explained it simply as the result of having “this voracious appetite for anything and everything musical.”  It was a hunger that often ignored established notions of musical style and accepted cultural value.

In his upcoming autobiography, A Life in Pursuit of Music and Beauty (University of Rochester Press), Schuller describes at length the Eureka moment of discovering the music of Duke Ellington on a radio broadcast from the Cotton Club. Told the next day of this extraordinary find, Schuller’s father, a classical violinist with the New York Philharmonic, “nearly had a heart attack.”

“That ‘Ellington moment’ was just one of those moments,” says Schuller, 85. “Then I began to have some additional experiences, like discovering what we call vernacular music, or ethnic music, or folk music. I heard music from Africa, Norwegian fiddle music, Japanese Gagaku music, and it was very good music. It just wasn’t written by Beethoven. So OK, it was not 55 minutes long like the “Eroica” Symphony. It was short, and in some cases it was improvised but, as with the music in those incredible Ellington broadcasts, in every respect by which you analyze a piece of music—the rhythm, the melody, the form, the clarity, the continuity, the orchestration, it all came out great—except some are miniature forms.”

“I was living in New York City then and I started going to these places where you could buy North African music, Tunisian music, or bouzouki music from Greece,” recalls Schuller, who began collecting jazz records at 14. “For me, all these musics were equal because of the criteria by which I evaluate a piece of music: It has to have some meaning, it has to have some expression, and it has to be well put together and 300,000 ethnic musics on the face of this globe in fact do that.”

Third Stream, a term he coined in the 1950s, was not just an intellectual construct but also a natural expression of daily practice – only applied to a particular situation. In the lecture at Brandeis University in which he first used the term, “I was talking about the fact that jazz and classical music had come together earlier in the 1920s, for a very short time. And nobody seemed to remember that,” he says. “That’s why I’m doing this Milhaud piece [La creation du Monde, October 2 at Festival Miami]: because it’s a jazz-influenced work. So [back then] I was talking about all that and trying to say ‘Look, this is not something entirely new, but now let’s bring these musics together again and this time let’s include improvisation.’”

But in the United States, the disconnect between classical music and jazz was not just a musical problem.

“The idea of Third Stream was more about an American problem, because jazz and classical music were completely segregated,” Schuller says. “ And I use that word rather than separated. That was inadmissible to me. So for me [the issue] was to bring these musics together.  But I always had the idea that it wouldn’t be just jazz and classical. It could be Greek bouzouki music and classical; or Turkish dance music and classical and jazz and all that has happened, eventually, gradually, over the last 60 years.”
 
Program Information:
Friday, September 30, 3:30 p.m. / Stamps Distinguished Lecture
Gunther Schuller—Into the Creative Mind of a Total Musician

Saturday, October 1, 8:00 p.m. / Festival Miami Opening Night
French Horn Celebration Featuring the Frost Symphony Orchestra

Sunday, October 2, 8:00 p.m. / Festival Miami Concert
On Stage with Gunther Schuller and the Frost Chamber Players

More about Richard Todd
The programs for the concerts October 1st and 2nd are not only musically rich for both Gunther Schuller and Frost faculty Richard Todd, but also charged by shared stories and personal meanings.

Schuller wrote his Concerto No 1 for Horn and Orchestra when he was 19 years old, but the first recording of the piece took place decades later. His choice for featured player was Frost faculty artist, Richard Todd.

“I knew at that time 10 other great horn players whom I could have chosen,” says Schuller. “But Rick has been especially close to me. Amongst the many horn players that I came in contact at Tanglewood in my 25 years there, he was one of the very best—and still is.”

Todd, who says his very first book about horn playing was Schuller’s tome on horn technique, calls the composer and conductor “the greatest musical mind in America.”

He recalls that when Schuller’s Concerto was recorded, at a concert in Saarbrucken, Germany, in the early 90s, the program also featured Haydn “Hornsignal” Symphony No 31. “And as it turns out, conductor Thomas Sleeper decided to program it for the Festival Miami concert, so it’s practically the same program we did when we first recorded [the concerto],” and this time, says Todd, “I own Gunther’s horn. So I will play the concerto with his horn.”

The Frost Symphony Orchestra’s Festival Miami program also features Todd’s Afro-Cuban influenced ceLebrACiOn, a piece commissioned by pianist and conductor Jeffrey Kahane in 2008 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO), and Richard Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel. “This program is horn-heavy, “ notes Todd. “And so you go fromTill Eulenspiegel, probably the most famous horn solo in history, to an Afro-Cuban blues.”

 


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