Gunther Schuller’s 
imprint on music

Last modified: 7/29/2015 7:42:21 PM
The 2015 Edward MacDowell Medalist, composer Gunther Schuller, will be illuminated in three distinct ways on Friday at the Monadnock Center for History and Culture. The program will open with a 10-minute documentary film featuring Schuller’s candid descriptions of his own work. After the film, composer Martin Brody will provide an overview of Schuller’s extensive contribution to our contemporary musical landscape. The evening will close with a piano performance of a Schuller standard by MacDowell Fellow and composer Vadim Neselovskyi.

Refreshments are available when doors open at 7 p.m. and the lights will dim at 7:30 p.m. to begin the one-hour program, which will highlight the achievements of the late Schuller as a composer, conductor and educator, and serve as a preview to The MacDowell Colony’s celebration of Schuller’s life’s work on Medal Day, Aug. 9. Schuller died on June 21 at the age of 89 as preparations for his visit to Peterborough to accept the Medal were underway.

As a working composer and Catherine Mills Davis Professor of Music at Wellesley College, Martin Brody came to know Schuller as a colleague and mentor. “I knew about Gunther Schuller from the time I was a little kid,” said Brody recently. “He was such an interesting guy ... Think about it, he recorded with Sinatra, Miles Davis, with Columbia records on a number of different projects.”

Brody said that he would begin the evening with a beautifully shot documentary film, essentially a 10-minute video interview with Schuller articulating his process of writing music. The 2014 film offers an intimate look into the maestro’s process and passions, hearing it in his own voice.

“His house was always teeming with activity,” Brody said, explaining that Schuller, in addition to composing, ran a successful music publishing business and record company. Brody will recall how he got to know Schuller and put his music world impact into context.

Describing Schuller’s musical sensibility, Brody said he was a precise listener with encyclopedic recall for every piece of music he’d heard. “Everything you’ve heard about his technical ability and ear is true,” said Brody. “He had an extraordinarily keen ear for instrumentation.” It was that ability that led Schuller to speak up at the 1950 recording session for parts of the record that would become Miles Davis’ “Birth of the Cool.” After three failed attempts at recording “Moon Dreams,” he realized it needed to have a conductor for the horns to be successful. Davis agreed, and Schuller conducted as well as played French horn on what has become a seminal record.

Such technical capability as a composer also will be brought to life with a live performance. Ukrainian-born pianist and composer Neselovskyi, currently at MacDowell for his second residency, will perform a Schuller composition based on Lewis’ jazz standard, “Django.”

Neselovskyi, who came to the U.S to study jazz closer to the source, has in recent years been working as a pianist and composer for Grammy-winning vibraphonist Gary Burton. He also serves as a professor of jazz piano at Berklee College of Music. Himself an heir to the legacy of Third Stream music, Neselovskyi was inspired by the Medal Day occasion to arrange “Django” for solo piano, a song that was brilliantly interpreted by Schuller for a recording featuring Bill Evans, Eric Dolphy and Jim Hall (1961).

“I will create my own improvisation influenced by this wonderful track, an improvisation in memory of Gunther Schuller,” said Neselovskyi. He explained that the piano solos on the record also were improvised and are interwoven with Gunther Schuller’s writing.

Schuller’s output in both jazz and classical territories has set an amazing example of music without boundaries, said Neselovskyi. “His ideas have had a profound impact on numerous composers, both classical and jazz (myself included), and the Third Stream movement that he created, I feel, will be continued by future generations of musicians.”

To find out a little more about Gunther Schuller’s musical genius, discover why he is this year’s Edward MacDowell Medalist, and to hear just a sample of his vast repertoire, please join us at the Monadnock Center for History and Culture tomorrow at 7:30 p.m.


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