Skip to content ↓

MIT celebrates composer Gunther Schuller's 75th birthday

Gunther Schuller
Gunther Schuller
Photo / G������bor Cs������nyi

"Scholar, composer, conductor, teacher, author, music publisher, indefatigable advocate -- Gunther Schuller isn't merely a musician, he's a monopoly," wrote Alan Rich in New York Magazine more than a decade ago.

This week MIT joins many US colleges, universities and music groups in celebrating the 75th birthday of the man who was once referred to as a "Pulitzer Prize-winning practitioner of the 28-hour day."

On Thursday, Nov. 16, MIT presents a panel discussion on Third Stream music (the fusion of classical composition and jazz improvisation) with Mr. Schuller, pianist Ran Blake and MIT Lecturer Mark Harvey at 7:30pm in Killian Hall. On Saturday, Nov. 18, MIT musicians join special guests for an All-Schuller concert at 8pm in Kresge Auditorium.

The events have been organized by Frederick Harris, lecturer in music and director of MIT's Wind Ensemble, who studied conducting with Mr. Schuller and once commissioned a piece by him for the wind ensemble at Belmont High School, where Dr. Harris was instrumental music director.

Dr. Harris is one of many musicians throughout the world who have been inspired by Mr. Schuller over the artist's long and multifaceted career. Mr. Schuller, said Dr. Harris, was a "profound influence on me -- not just as a conductor but as a musical ideal to aspire to. He exemplifies the very highest level of musical integrity in every thing he does as composer, conductor, educator, author, music publisher, recording producer, musical advocate and citizen."

More than 120 MIT students are directly involved in the birthday events, Dr. Harris said, noting that Mr. Schuller has been on campus during two rehearsals, engaging and working with the student musicians.

"I have always viewed every opportunity of contact with Mr. Schuller, no matter how small, as an incredible gift," said Dr. Harris. "My goal in creating these birthday events is to bring those opportunities for enrichment to the MIT community and to celebrate all that Mr. Schuller has given to the world of music over the last 60 years. It is difficult to think of any other musician who has achieved as much as he has, in both classical and jazz music."

"The Birth, Development, and Future of Third Stream Music" features a panel which includes Mr. Schuller; Ran Blake, chair of the Contemporary Improvisation Department at the New England Conservatory of Music and a widely known Third Stream pianist; and Dr. Harvey. As one of the primary architects of the Third Stream movement, Mr. Schuller possesses intimate knowledge of its roots and development. He collaborated with Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy, and co-led the Third Stream group Orchestra USA with John Lewis in the early 1960s.

The program for the all-Schuller birthday concert includes the Boston premiere of Song and Dance for solo violin and large wind orchestra, performed by Young-Nam Kim, violinist and artistic director of the Minnesota Chamber Music Society, and the MIT Wind Ensemble under the direction of Dr. Harris. Other works include Sonata for Saxophone and Piano performed by Kenneth Radnovsky on alto saxophone and John McDonald on piano; Music for Young People, performed by members of the MIT Chamber Music Society; Blue Dawn into White Heat, performed by the MIT Wind Ensemble; and other surprise pieces and special guests. Admission is $5.


Mr. Schuller is regarded as one of the elder statesmen of both post-war jazz musicians and 20th-century American composers. An inaugural member of the American Classical Music Hall of Fame and winner of the DownBeat Lifetime Achievement Award, he has worked with figures as diverse as Arturo Toscanini and Frank Zappa during his long career as an innovative musical figure and champion of underappreciated music.

Mr. Schuller's compositions have been premiered by leading orchestras and other ensembles around the world and awarded with the Pulitzer Prize, a MacArthur "genius" grant and many other honors. His experience as an educator at institutions such as Yale and the landmark Lenox School of Jazz culminated in 10 years as the president of the New England Conservatory and a 20-year involvement with the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, including a long stint as artistic director. After his retirement from education, Mr. Schuller spent the 1980s as one of the primary on-call conductors for orchestras performing complex contemporary pieces.

He has authored several books, including two seminal works on the history of jazz and an extensive work on the art of conducting. He has also worked as a music publisher and operates his own recording company, GM Recordings.

An exhibition on Mr. Schuller's life and music is on view at the Lewis Music Library through November.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 15, 2000.

Related Topics

More MIT News