Gunther Schuller, Pro Arte’s Principal Guest Conductor, has earned prominence as a composer, conductor, jazz and classical performer, author and historian, educator and administrator, music publisher, record producer, and all-around advocate for innovative musicianship.
His influence is felt throughout the jazz and classical worlds, and he is the esteemed winner of several major honors including the William Schuman Award (1988) given by Columbia University for “lifetime achievement in American music composition,” the MacArthur Foundation Genius Award (1991), a Pulitzer Prize (1994), the Gold Medal for Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1997), the Downbeat Lifetime Achievement Award, and an inaugural membership in the American Classical Music Hall of Fame.
Schuller was a professional horn player at age 17. By the age of 24, he was the principal horn of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and a performer on Miles Davis’s seminal “Birth of the Cool recordings. He coined the term “Third Stream” in 1957 to describe the merger of jazz improvisation and classical composition.
His 1959 composition Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee solidified his already impressive presence as a composer. He joined the staff of the prestigious Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood in 1963 at the request of Aaron Copland. Schuller’s performance career, which included stints with three major orchestras and freelance work with giants like Arturo Toscanini, Gil Evans, Frank Sinatra, and Dizzy Gillespie, ended that same year when he retired to compose full time. He retired from Tanglewood in 1984 after 15 years as Artistic Director.
Mr. Schuller’s career as an educator, including teaching positions at the Manhattan School of Music, Yale University, and the groundbreaking Lenox School of Jazz, culminated in the presidency of Boston’s New England Conservatory in 1966. There he created the first conservatory-level, jazz degree program and founded the award-winning New England Ragtime Ensemble. which played a major role in reviving ragtime in 1973.
Following his retirement from New England Conservatory in 1977, Mr. Schuller was in demand as a guest conductor, independent music publisher (with his own Margun and GunMar companies), record label president for his own GM Recordings label, and famed musicologist and historian. He has written several books of note including Horn Technique (1962), Early Jazz (1968), The Swing Era (1989), and The Complete Conductor (1997). His newest written work, the first volume of his autobiography, will be published later this year by Oxford University Press.
Mr. Schuller’s recordings include his May 1989 performance with the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra and the Back Bay Chorale of John Knowles Paine’s oratorio Saint Peter plus a collection of double bass concertos with Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra and Boston Symphony Orchestra bassist Edwin Barker.