RIP Gunther Schuller


I met Gunther at his wonderful festival at Sandpoint in the 1990’s. On the second night of the festival, I ran into him in the bar and in spite of our vast difference in age, achievement and knowledge, had one of the all-time great bar hangs of my life. Gunther’s public persona could be quite imperious, but one-on-one, one quickly realised that everything he did and said was motivated by an incredibly deep love of music. The man lived music- he only slept about 3-4 hours a day, and while everyone else was talking, resting, eating or chatting, he was always busy composing, writing, organizing or producing.


Sandpoint was a great encapsulation of everything he loved, with courses in chamber music (which I was there for), conducting, composition and modern jazz. I wish I could have done them all, but Gunther being Gunther, every program was an all-day, every-day project.

He quickly picked up on my interest in conducting and we had some inspiring talks about his ethos of score study. One thing you can say about Gunther- he knew exactly what he believed when it came to music.

To my delight, he also invited me to play as cellist and later guitarist and banjo-player on what I think were the last few tours of the New England Ragtime Ensemble. Those concerts were thrilling. If you only know Gunther through his rather Old Testament writings on conducting, it’s quite a different thing to see him beaming away smiling rehearsing and conducting Joplin (always from memory) with such joy and ease.

He leaves behind an incredible body of work. I pity his archivist!


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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

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