RIP Mr. Schuller

Gunther Schuller, Composer Who Synthesized Classical and Jazz, Dies at 89

Mr. Schuller was the first important musical figure I met. I was a 19-year old composition fellow at Tanglewood and knew very well who he was and what he stood for in contemporary music before I arrived there. My first introduction to Mr. Schuller was through Jerry Coker’s book “Improvising Jazz” with a forward by Gunther Schuller which I bought in 1974. When I first arrived at Tanglewood I feared him but his disarming smile turned fear into great respect.

I attended most of his orchestra rehearsals, with score in hand, throughout that summer—absorbing. He presented a broad spectrum of music that summer, including Amerique by Varese (by the way Mr. Schuller’s interview with Varese is a must read), Hymnen by Stockhausen, Symphony #7 by Sibelius and Don Quixote by Strauss.

I fondly remember nearly each morning on my way down from Saranak to the Hawthorn House observing Mr. Schuller, sometimes with his son George arriving through the Tanglewood gates in a large early ’70s beater-of-a-car. He was usually wearing a loudly patterned shirt, sometimes with stains on it. I would think, approvingly, this is how famous musicians live.

That summer brought the premiere of Mr. Schuller’s Deaï using three orchestras with three conductors in different tempi who were coordinated by a CCTV camera. Afterwards I congratulated Mr. Schuller in the green room and I said, “I really enjoyed your piece.”, to that he enigmatically responded, “I knew you would.”

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About Mark Gustavson

I am a composer of unconventional music.
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