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Walfrid Kujala in 1997 (William Burlingham photo)

Wishing Walfrid Kujala—a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s flute and piccolo section from 1954 until 2001—a very happy ninety-fifth birthday!

A native of Warren, Ohio, Kujala grew up in Clarksburg, West Virginia, where he started flute lessons when he was in the seventh grade. (His father, a bassoonist, steered him to the flute in order to “save him” from the headaches of reed making.) While attending high school in Huntington, West Virginia, he studied with Parker Taylor, principal flute of the Huntington Symphony Orchestra, and  played second flute with the ensemble from 1939 until 1942.

Kujala attended the Eastman School of Music, where he studied with Joseph Mariano, principal flute of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. His college career was interrupted by two and a half years of military service in the U.S. Army, serving in the 86th Infantry Division Band from 1943 until 1946. During his tour of duty in the Philippines, after the end of hostilities, Kujala was briefly a member of the Manila Symphony Orchestra. From Eastman, he received his bachelor of music degree in 1948 and a master’s degree in 1950, and he was a member of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra under Erich Leinsdorf from 1948 until 1954. Kujala also served on Eastman’s faculty from 1950 until 1954.

In 1954, sixth music director Fritz Reiner hired Kujala as assistant principal flute of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and in 1957, he became principal piccolo, serving in that capacity until 2001. He also performed as principal flute of the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra from 1955 until 1960.

As a soloist, Kujala has appeared under Reiner, Sir Georg Solti, Seiji Ozawa, Antonio Janigro, and Lawrence Foster. He also has soloed at the Stratford and Victoria Festivals in Canada, as well as recitals, chamber music concerts, and master classes across the United States.

Kujala, Gunther Schuller, and Sir Georg Solti following the world premiere performance of Schuller’s Flute Concerto on October 13, 1988 (Jim Steere photo)

Kujala joined the faculty at Northwestern University in 1962 and taught there for fifty years, retiring in 2012. In honor of his sixtieth birthday, his students and colleagues commissioned a flute concerto from Gunther Schuller, and Kujala was soloist in the world premiere with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Solti on October 13, 1988. On August 19, 1990, he was soloist in the U.S. premiere of Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Concerto for Flute under Kurt Redel, at the National Flute Association convention in Minneapolis. The Chicago Flute Club’s biennial international piccolo competition is named in his honor.

The author of the textbook The Flutist’s Progress, Kujala also regularly contributes articles and editorial to several publications, including The Instrumentalist, Flute Talk, Music Journal, and Woodwind World. He is a founding board member and founding secretary of the National Flute Association, where he also served as president, vice president, and board chairman. Kujala and his wife Sherry make their home in Evanston.

Happy, happy birthday!

Gunther Schuller

Composer and conductor Gunther Schuller, a frequent guest and collaborator with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra over the course of the last fifty years, died yesterday in Boston. He was 89.

Since 1965, the Orchestra has performed numerous works by Schuller, both at Orchestra Hall and at the Ravinia Festival, including several world premieres. To celebrate the Orchestra’s seventy-fifth season, Schuller was commissioned to write his Gala Music; the composer led the world premiere at Orchestra Hall on January 20, 1966. At Ravinia, Seiji Ozawa led the world premiere of his Recitative and Rondo on July 16, 1967. Schuller himself led the Orchestra at Ravinia in the world premiere of his Suite from his opera The Visitation with the Ravinia Festival Jazz Ensemble on July 26, 1970. Sir Georg Solti led the world premiere of Schuller’s Concerto for Flute and Orchestra with CSO flute and piccolo Walfrid Kujala as soloist—commissioned for Kujala’s sixtieth birthday by his students and colleagues—on October 13, 1988.

As conductor with the Orchestra, Schuller led the world premiere of Easley Blackwood‘s Piano Concerto with the composer as soloist on July 26, 1970, at the Ravinia Festival. He also led the Orchestra in the U.S. premiere of Alexander Nemtin’s arrangement of Scriabin’s Universe, Part 1 of the Prefatory Action of Mysterium; Mary Sauer was the piano soloist and the Chicago Symphony Chorus was prepared by assistant director James Winfield.

A complete list of Gunther Schuller’s conducting appearances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is below (subscription concerts at Orchestra Hall, unless otherwise noted):

Sir Georg Solti and the composer acknowledge soloist Walfrid Kujala following the world premiere of Schuller's Concerto for Flute and Orchestra on October 13, 1988

Sir Georg Solti and the composer acknowledge soloist Walfrid Kujala following the world premiere of Schuller’s Concerto for Flute and Orchestra on October 13, 1988

July 10, 1965 (Ravinia Festial)
SCHUBERT/Webern German Dances
SCHUBERT Symphony No. 8 in B Minor, D. 759 (Unfinished)
SAINT SAËNS Cello Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 33
Frank Miller, cello
SCHULLER Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee

January 20, 21 & 22, 1966
BERLIOZ The Corsair Overture, Op. 21
RACHMANINOV Symphony No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 44
PROKOFIEV Concerto for Violin, No. 1 in D major, Op. 19
Edith Peinemann, violin
SCHULLER Gala Music (world premiere)

July 26, 1970 (Ravinia Festival)
WALTON Scapino Overture
SCHULLER Suite from The Visitation (world premiere)
Ravinia Festival Jazz Ensemble
BLACKWOOD Piano Concerto (world premiere)
Easley Blackwood, piano
SCRIABIN The Poem of Ecstasy

December 6, 7 & 8, 1979
SCHULLER Concerto for Double Bass and Chamber Orchestra
Joseph Guastafeste, bass
SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 15 in A Major, Op. 141
SCRIABIN/Nemtin Universe, Part I of the Prefatory Action of Mysterium (U.S. premiere)
Mary Sauer, piano
Chicago Symphony Chorus
James Winfield, assistant director

For the CSO’s Marathon 12 fundraiser in 1987, a radio broadcast performance of Schuller’s Concerto for Double Bass and Chamber Orchestra, with principal bass Joseph Guastafeste as soloist and the composer conducting, was released on Soloists of the Orchestra, vol. 2. The Orchestra also recorded Schuller’s Spectra for Orchestra with James Levine conducting in 1990 for Deutsche Grammophon.

Gunther Schuller most recently appeared at Orchestra Hall on the Symphony Center Presents series on May 18, 2007, leading Epitaph, an eighty-fifth birthday anniversary tribute to Charles Mingus.

Several obituaries have been posted online in The New York Times, National Public Radio, and The Guardian, among numerous others.

____________________________________________________

Soloist, composer, and conductor following the world premiere performance on October 13, 1988 (photograph signed by Solti)

On October 13, 1988, Sir Georg Solti led the world premiere of Gunther Schuller‘s Flute Concerto, which had been commissoned for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s flute and piccolo, Walfrid Kujala.

According to Phillip Huscher’s program note, the composer “was approached about writing a concerto for Walfrid Kujala nearly four years ago, by a small group of Kujala’s students, who realized that, in this way, they could honor their teacher and, at the same time, add an important score to the relatively scant repertoire of major concertos for flute and piccolo. By the time the details had been nailed down, 150 students, colleagues, and admirers of Walfrid Kujala from around the country, as well as Mexico, Canada, and Europe, had agreed to support the commission. Additional funding was provided by the band and orchestral division of Yamaha Corporation of America. The work was composed in 1987 and early 1988, and is ‘dedicated in greatest admiration to Walfrid Kujala.'”

Prior to the performance, a profile of Kujala appeared in the Chicago Tribune. Press reviews are here.

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After the Europe Tour 2020, Riccardo Muti joined the Orchestra again for a three-week CSO residency in February that included the Florida Tour 2020 and two programs at Symphony Center. In celebration of the Music Director’s time with the Orchestra during the past two months, please enjoy this video featuring Maestro Muti leading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in an excerpt from Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana, featuring mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili as Santuzza. 🎥@toddrphoto
Opening with the most famous four notes in all of classical music, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is featured on this CSO program led by Riccardo Muti, along with the composer’s Second Symphony and the world premiere of Ophelia’s Tears, Concertante Elegy, a new work by Nicolas Bacri featuring the CSO’s own bass clarinet J. Lawrie Bloom as soloist. #Beethoven250 📸@toddrphoto
“In four years, I had been in five orchestras,” said CSO Bass Clarinet J. Lawrie Bloom about the beginning of his orchestral career. As a clarinetist, he never set out to play the bass clarinet, but there just happened to be orchestral positions for the instrument when he began seeking a job. “That is how fast the auditions were happening. But by then, I had really started to realize that the bass gave me a voice I’d never had.” J. Lawrie Bloom takes center stage this week in Orchestra Hall for the world premiere of Nicolas Bacri’s Ophelia’s Tears, Concertante Elegy for Bass Clarinet and Orchestra, led by Riccardo Muti. #MusicianMonday 📸@toddrphoto

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