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Gunther Schuller, who had already established himself as a prominent American composer, conductor, and jazz musician, became the President of New England Conservatory in 1967. During his decade long tenure, Schuller formalized NEC’s commitment to jazz by establishing the first degree-granting jazz program in the world. Shortly thereafter, he instituted the Third Stream department (subsequently named the Contemporary Improvisation department) to explore the regions where the two musical “streams” of classical and jazz meet and mingle (Schuller had coined the term “Third Stream” during a lecture he gave at Brandeis University in 1957). He hired the iconic Ran Blake to be the department’s chair. Early jazz hires included the legendary Jaki Byard and George Russell.
Along the way, Schuller increased NEC’s profile among the world’s great music institutions in remarkable ways. He insisted from the earliest days of his tenure that contemporary music have equal billing next to the acknowledged classical masterpieces, and that students be equally adept at performing both. He bolstered and revitalized NEC’s string, piano and composition faculties, hiring artists whose influence remains intact to this day, among them Louis Krasner, Laurence Lesser, Russell Sherman and Donald Martino. In one of Boston’s most notorious periods of racial disharmony, he created community outreach programs that sent young, eager musicians to bring the gift of music into some of the city’s most marginalized neighborhoods. And, championing the forgotten music of a neglected American composer, he founded the New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble and recorded Scott Joplin: The Red Back Book, which won the 1974 Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance, ignited a latter-day ragtime revival, and spurred tours across America, Russia, and to the White House.
Renowned as a great composer, Schuller composed over 180 works, spanning all musical genres including solo works, orchestral works, chamber music, opera, and jazz. A small selection of his notable works includes his: Symphonic Tribute to Duke Ellington (1955), Cello Concerto (1945). Fantasia concertante (1947), Quartet for four double basses (1947), Twelve by Eleven, Spectra (1958), 7 Studies of Paul Klee (1959); Variants (1960), The Fisherman and His Wife (1970), Deaï (1978), Concerto for Contrabassoon (1978), Of Reminiscences and Reflections for orchestra (1993;The Black Warrior (1998) and Refrains (2006)
After leaving the presidency, Schuller continued to be active at NEC, composing new works and appearing as a guest conductor throughout the rest of his life. This exhibit pays tribute to Gunther Schuller's legacy at NEC - artistically reshaping this institution. This legacy which will continue on to influence NEC for generations to come.
Biographical sketch partly derived from : Richard Dyer, “Gunther Schuller”, Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 30 October 2007).