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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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Revised program book cover for the November 28 and 29, 1963, subscription concerts

Revised program book cover for the November 28 and 29, 1963, subscription concerts

November 22, 1963, already was a memorable day for Mary Sauer (currently the Orchestra’s principal keyboard), as it was her and her husband Richard’s fifth wedding anniversary. While on her way to Orchestra Hall for the Friday afternoon matinee concert, she heard the news of the events in Dallas: President John F. Kennedy had been shot at 12:30 p.m. CST while riding in a motorcade in Dealey Plaza. It was unconfirmed whether or not the president was still alive.

CSO flute and piccolo Walfrid Kujala recalled, “I remember emerging from the State Street subway around 1:00 p.m. on my way to Orchestra Hall and seeing a crowd hovering around a television display in the front window of a Palmer House store. That’s where I first learned about Kennedy’s assassination.” And CSO principal trombone Jay Friedman remembered, “I heard about it before I took the stage; it was announced on television earlier that day.”

Program page for November 21 and 22, 1963, announcing scheduled memorial for Fritz Reiner the following week

Program page for November 21 and 22, 1963, announcing scheduled memorial for Fritz Reiner the following week

The CSO matinee concert was scheduled to begin at 2:00 p.m., not even two hours after the president had been shot and shortly after Walter Cronkite had confirmed the news of Kennedy’s death at 1:38 p.m. Just before the concert began, an announcement was made from the stage (presumably by general manager Seymour Raven) and there was significant reaction of shock from the audience, including audible gasps, cries, and even screams.

Moments before, it had been decided to open the concert with the second movement—the funeral march—from Beethoven’s Third Symphony (Eroica) followed by the rest of the program as scheduled: Bach’s First Brandenburg Concerto, Henze’s Third Symphony, and Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto with Byron Janis, all led by Jean Martinon. Sauer recalls the emotion of the musicians as they took the stage: “The feeling was similar to when we were in Lucerne on September 11, 2001, deciding whether or not to continue with the concert. There was a tremendous sense of uncertainty, because the news was so fresh and still unfolding, and we did not know so many of the facts. But ultimately, needing to perform was the only answer. One of the beauties of music is you can immerse yourself in the performance and let the music be a retreat from the rest of the world. Performing allows you to escape from the stresses of life as well as being a powerful means of releasing and sharing of one’s emotions.”

According to newspaper accounts, a “self-imposed blackout on all regular [entertainment] programs and commercials on television since President Kennedy’s assassination last Friday was brought to a close last night with special memorial programs.” The Chicago Symphony Orchestra made its own contribution on Monday, November 25, taping a concert for broadcast at 4:00 p.m. on WGN-TV. The program was carried by ABC in the afternoon and rebroadcast (presumably only locally) later that evening at 10:15 p.m.

The television program contained works by Gluck, Bach, Beethoven, and Barber, all led by Martinon. The Bach was a repeat of the First Brandenburg Concerto from the previous week and the Barber was his Adagio for Strings. However, the other two works on the program remain unconfirmed, as no programs were printed and we do not have a copy of the broadcast in our collection. A logical choice for the Gluck might have been the Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Orfeo ed Euridice; but the Orchestra had just performed the Overture to Iphigénie en Aulide on November 14 and 15. Also, Martinon and the Orchestra had performed Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on October 10 and 11 and the Seventh Symphony on November 14 and 15, so both interpretations would have been fresh.

Revised program page for November 28 and 29, 1963

Program page for November 28 and 29, 1963

Friedman also recalled being in a restaurant that day, along with principal trumpet Adolph “Bud” Herseth, principal tuba Arnold Jacobs, and fellow section trombone Robert Lambert, watching the funeral at Arlington National Cemetery on television. When the bugler played Taps, Friedman remembers Bud saying, “I wouldn’t want his job.” (That job was given to Army Sgt. Keith Clark.)

The subscription concert program for November 28 and 29, 1963—originally programmed by Jean Martinon months before and designated as a memorial to Fritz Reiner only days before—became a memorial for President John F. Kennedy. A new program cover was printed and the Reiner insert also was used.

Margaret Hillis had prepared the Chicago Symphony Chorus for both works; and the soloists in the Mozart were Adele Addison, Carol Smith, Walter Carringer, and William Warfield. According to Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune, “After the emotional exhaustion of these last black days, neither the austere beauty of Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms nor the not-quite Mozart of the Requiem asked more of the listener than he had left to give. It was a quiet, beautifully played, wholly compassionate concert in Orchestra Hall.”

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A footnote: at virtually the same time on Friday afternoon, November 22, 1963, a nearly identical scenario was unfolding in Kennedy’s home state of Massachusetts. The Boston Symphony Orchestra‘s Friday afternoon matinee began at 2:00 p.m. EST, and their concert already was in progress when orchestra management received word of the events in Dallas. Near the end of the first half of the program, music director Erich Leinsdorf was informed and the decision was made to play the second movement of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony. Their librarians (including William Shisler, whose recollection of the event is here) quickly distributed the music and Leinsdorf made an announcement from the stage. The entire event was captured on tape by WGBH and the audio can be heard here.

Thanks to Bridget Carr, archivist for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Images of the revised program pages can be found here, as part of the BSO’s Archives fantastic project to digitize their program book collection.

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A second footnote: to commemorate the anniversary, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will perform Stravinsky’s Elegy for J.F.K. on November 21, 22, 23, and 24, 2013. Kelley O’Connor will be the mezzo-soprano soloist; the work also features CSO clarinetists John Bruce Yeh, Gregory Smith, and J. Lawrie Bloom. Michael Tilson Thomas conducts.

In 2012, the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) held its fiftieth anniversary meeting in Chicago. To commemorate the event, a documentary was produced (by Tim Redman) and is now available.

Several former Chicago Symphony Orchestra members are prominently featured in the film, including Sam Denov (percussion), Tom Hall (violin), Walfrid Kujala (flute and piccolo), Richard Lottridge (bassoon and contrabassoon), and Rudolph Nashan (trumpet), offering first-hand accounts of working conditions in the orchestral field fifty years ago.

The video is available here:

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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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With the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Sir Georg Solti conducted Bach’s monumental Saint Matthew Passion on four different occasions at Orchestra Hall:

April 9 and 10, 1971
Jesus: Tom Krause
Evangelist: Richard Lewis
Aria soloists: Heather Harper, Helen Watts, Richard Lewis, Donald Gramm
Other vocal soloists: Alfred Reichel, Stephen Swanson, Nancy Clevenger, Ellen Rico, Linda Mabbs, Jack Abraham, Eugene Johnson, Frederic Chrislip, Karen Zajac
Obbligati: Donald Peck, Richard Graef, Ray Still, Richard Kanter, Grover Schiltz, DeVere Moore, Victor Aitay, Sidney Weiss, Eva Heinitz
Continuo: Eloise Niwa, Frank Miller, Joseph Guastafeste
Chicago Symphony Chorus; Margaret Hillis, director
Glen Ellyn Children’s Theatre Chorus; Barbara Born, director
These performances were dedicated to the memory of Igor Stravinsky, who had died on April 6, 1971.

April 12 and 13, 1974
Jesus: Gwynne Howell
Evangelist: Mallory Walker
Aria soloists: Heather Harper, Helen Watts, Jerry Jennings, Philip Booth
Other vocal soloists: Alfred Reichel, Curtis Dickson, Gershon Silins, Stephen Swanson, Donna Gullstrand, Alexis Darden, Sarah Beatty, Richard Livingston, Philip Creech, Isola Jones
Obbligati: Donald Peck, Richard Graef, Louise Dixon, Walfrid Kujala, Ray Still, Richard Kanter, Grover Schiltz, Michael Henoch, Victor Aitay, Samuel Magad, John Hsu
Continuo: Eloise Niwa, Mary Sauer, Frank Miller, Joseph Guastafeste
Chicago Symphony Chorus; Margaret Hillis, director
Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus; Doreen Rao, director

April 4 and 6, 1985
Jesus: Wolfgang Schoene
Evangelist: Anthony Rolfe Johnson
Aria soloists: Pamela Coburn, Brigitte Fassbaender, Thomas Moser, Siegmund Nimsgern
Other vocal soloists: Bruce Cain, Richard Cohn, Jane Green, Joan Welles, Doris Kirschner, Karen Zajac, Tim O’Connor
Obbligati: Donald Peck, Richard Graef, Louise Dixon, Walfrid Kujala, Ray Still, Richard Kanter, Grover Schiltz, Michael Henoch, Victor Aitay, Samuel Magad, Catharina Meints
Continuo: Mary Sauer, David Schrader, Richard Webster, Leonard Chausow, Joseph Guastafeste
Chicago Symphony Chorus; Margaret Hillis, director
Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus; Doreen Rao, director

Saint Matthew Passion recording session in Orchestra Hall

March 19 and 21, 1987
Jesus: Olaf Bär
Evangelist: Hans Peter Blochwitz
Aria soloists: Kiri Te Kanawa, Anne Sofie von Otter, Thomas Moser, Tom Krause
Other vocal soloists: Richard Cohn, Patrice Michaels, Debra Austin, William Watson
Obbligati: Donald Peck, Richard Graef, Louise Dixon, Walfrid Kujala, Ray Still, Judith Kulb, Grover Schiltz, Michael Henoch, Samuel Magad, Rubén González, Catharina Meints, Mary Sauer
Continuo: David Schrader, John Sharp, Joseph Guastafeste
Chicago Symphony Chorus; Margaret Hillis, director
Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus; Lucy Ding, acting director

Following the performances in March 1987, the work was recorded for London Records. Andrew Cornall was the producer, and Simon Eadon and John Pellowe were the engineers.

Solti, members of the Orchestra, and soloists listen to playbacks

I inadvertently neglected to include the 1971 performances in the first version of this post. —FV

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