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MIT concert to honor Schuller on Dec. 2

Composer Gunther Schuller, left, and MIT Wind Ensemble music director Frederick Harris at a Nov. 21 rehearsal for the ensemble's Dec. 2 concert.
Composer Gunther Schuller, left, and MIT Wind Ensemble music director Frederick Harris at a Nov. 21 rehearsal for the ensemble's Dec. 2 concert.
Photo / Thomas Maxisch

To commemorate the 80th birthday of Gunther Schuller, world-renowned composer, conductor and advocate of jazz and classical music, the MIT Wind Ensemble will perform music he composed and edited in a concert on Friday, Dec. 2.

The recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for composition, Schuller became a leader in a new style of music, said Frederick Harris, music director of the ensemble.

"He is a huge proponent of taking jazz and classical and fusing them together," he said, noting that Schuller is known for this "Third Stream" style. "It was a term he coined describing the respectful co-existence of the stream of classical music with the stream of jazz music creating a 'third stream' -- a fusion of the two."

The MIT Wind Ensemble will showcase both the classical and the jazz elements of Schuller's work, but will perform only one piece that he composed, "Blue Dawn Into White Heat."

"Rather than do a concert of all his music, we want to highlight his advocacy for other musicians," Harris said. In 2000, the ensemble performed a concert of Schuller's compositions to commemorate his 75th birthday.

From Scott Joplin to Charles Mingus, Schuller has been a proponent of many different styles of music. He helped lead a ragtime revival in the 1970s, even creating a ragtime ensemble at the New England Conservatory.

"He's also worked with Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie," Harris said. "I can't think of anyone else who has worked like that, advocating their music. We wanted to honor the jazz element."

To that end, the ensemble will be performing a jazz version of the classic "Blue Moon," that Schuller arranged.

"Jazz is very different," said Jessica Young, a senior oboist in the ensemble. "It's so cool to listen to, but playing is a challenge. We're doing our best to rise to that challenge."

Although Schuller will not be at Friday's MIT concert, he attended the Wind Ensemble's rehearsal in Kresge Auditorium on Monday, Nov. 21 (the day before his actual birthday) and gave the student musicians some feedback on their rendition of his works.

"I'm always pretty nervous to have the composer come in, especially with someone like Gunther Schuller," said Kurt Stiehl, a junior percussionist in the ensemble. "It's an honor just to play for someone like him."

At the rehearsal, Schuller hopped up on stage to listen. After each piece, he gave compliments and suggestions, from "Can you play a little softer, my dear?" to "You gotta play faster, you gotta go crazy!" After one critique, he looked at one student and said, "You look at me like I'm crazy ��� maybe I am."

Special guests at Friday's concert will include the MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble and local musician Ran Blake, whom Harris called "one of the great avant-garde jazz pianists."

The performance begins at 8 p.m. in Kresge Auditorium. Tickets cost $5. For more information, call x3-2826.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 30, 2005 (download PDF).

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