Gunther Schuller and Journey Into Jazz

Gunther Schuller was surely the most multifaceted musician (horn player, composer, conductor, educator, administrator, author, jazz player and historian of jazz, and advocate for living composers) of his time, or probably of any time.  At age 18 he was appointed principal horn of the Cincinnati Symphony and later held that position at the Metropolitan Opera.  As one of America’s most important and prolific composers, he was given a MacArthur Foundation “genius” award in 1991 and a Pulitzer Prize in 1994 among many other honors, including ten honorary degrees.  His 1959 orchestral work Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee remains a much-performed and especially admired milestone in 20th-century American music.

in 1955 Schuller and pianist John Lewis founded the Modern Jazz Society.  At various times he worked with the Modern Jazz Quartet, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Frank Sinatra, Gerry Mulligan, and others.  He was president of New England Conservatory from 1967 to 1977,  and for many years was closely associated with the Tanglewood Music Center (the summer home of the Boston Symphony), acting as artistic co-director from 1970 to 1984, and creating Tanglewood’s Festival of Contemporary Music.

Schuller guest conducted major orchestras all over the world, including Philadelphia’s Orchestra 2001 which co-commissioned his Concerto da Camera for its concerts in 2002.  (Orchestra 2001’s concerts in 2013 included the premiere performances of his Sonata for Two Pianos, commissioned by Robert and James Freeman. Their recording of the Sonata will be released by Innova Records later this year.)

From 1993 until the end of his life he was artistic director of the Northwest Bach Festival and the Festival at Sandpoint, Idaho.   His books include Horn Technique (1962), Early Jazz  (1968),  The Swing Era (1991), The Compleat Conductor (1998), and an autobiography (2011).

During his years as president of New England Conservatory, Schuller formed the New England Ragtime Ensemble and coined the term “Third Stream Music” to describe works that combine elements of jazz and contemporary classical art music. His 1962 Journey Into Jazz, with text by Nat Hentoff, is a perfect example of that term.  It was first performed in Washington, D.C., May 30, 1962. with the composer conducting the National Symphony Orchestra.

After hearing our performance of Journey Into Jazz, some audience members may be interested to see on YouTube a March 1964 performance of the piece, with the composer conducting the New York Philharmonic, and Leonard Bernstein narrating. – James Freeman

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