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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.

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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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