Gunther Schuller was one of the major figures in the history of American music. Perhaps best known for his efforts to bring American jazz and its musicians onto the map of “serious” music, he was also a friend and supporter of many musical styles and modes of expression.
He expressed support very early on for Camerata’s efforts, writing us a letter of congratulations on our first production of “A Renaissance Christmas,” circa 1971. Then, when Camerata separated from the Museum of Fine Arts circa 1974, he offered us a new performing home. As then-president of the New England Conservatory, he proposed that Camerata present regular concerts at the school’s splendid Jordan Hall, and so we did for several seasons, until his departure from NEC.
He also honored us by transcribing from the Nonesuch LP, and then publishing it, our performance of “A Medieval Christmas.” What a tour de force! He had previously done this for important jazz musicians, including the recently deceased Ornette Coleman. “Classically trained musicians take music more seriously when it’s written down,” he said to me. “Early music like yours needs to be seen as something carefully considered and developed.” And indeed, his meticulously detailed score for “Medieval Christmas,” which won an award for oustanding music publication, superficially looked more in places like Brahms than Perotin.
Then, many years later, he helped us put together a pit band for the production of Kurt Weill’s musical, Johnny Johnson. Gunther knew all the best players, and the resulting team was superb, helping the recording to receive several critical awards and distinctions.
The Gunther we knew had a big heart, a generous disposition, an open and continuously probing mind, and a prodigious musical gift. What a man! There will never be another quite like him. Rest in peace, dear friend, and bravo.
Joel Cohen, June 22, 2015