We take so much for granted – the sun will go down , the sun will come up – that we never seem to realize that some day it won’t be there or we won’t be here to see it.  Same thing is true of friends you could always count on. So when I got an e-mail from my composer-conductor friend Gerhard Samuel’s companion, Achim Nicklis, that Gerhard had passed away a few weeks ago, I was shocked.  Sure, I sensed he wasn’t well – repeated e-mails saying he’d changed his address indicated as much. – but the sad fact remains. He’s not here anymore.

One comes to know a person through what they say, or don’t say, do, or don’t do, and if that person’s an artist one gets to know them through their work. I first encountered Gary’s music when I was driving my sister Kathi’s car in Belmont Shore, Long Beach, and was so moved  when I heard the La Salle Quartet perform his String Quartet # 1 (1978) on the radio, that I stopped the car until it was over. But isn’t that what art’s supposed to do, and isn’t its awareness meant to make us more aware?

Other pieces had just as much impact. There was his original and very touching “gloss ” on Mondeverdi, Looking at Orpheus Looking  (1971), which he wrote for the Oakland Symphony when he was its extra innovative music director, Requiem for Survivors  and suddenly it’s evening  (1974), which he composed as a memorial piece for his Oakland successor, Calvin Simmons, when he was Mehta’s assistant conductor at the LA Philharmonic; the chamber piece, Nocturne on an Impossible Dream (1980), which he wrote with his mother in mind;  the 1998 chamber work with tenor and saxophone solo, Hyacinth From Apollo, to a poem by his frequent collaborator, Jack Larson, who was the original TV Jimmy Olsen; and the 1994 Transformations for chamber string orchestra and solo violin. And though these were all completely different in style and expressive intent, they couldn’t have been more of a  piece with who Gerhard was – passionate, charming as all get out, refined, yet always full of surprises.

Like that September evening in 1998 – the 19th, to be precise – when Tony Gualtieri and I presented him on KUSF-FM’s 3-hour Classical  Salon, and he, during the time his music was playing, seemed completely at sea, and I said “ Don’t worry, “ as Tony looked across the room at us from “ Studio A”, to our  perch at the little table which was “Studio B”, and then when our mikes went on rose to the occasion like the pro he always was. Which reminds me of a story he told me of what happened when he was conducting one of the Stravinsky ballets. The composer was backstage, hand cupped to his ear, listening intently as his wife, Vera, said “Why’s he doing that? He’s heard it a million times!” And Gerhard said “ Because he wants to hear it again!” which was a lot like him too– completely in the present, where everything is. 

4 Responses to “Gerhard Samuel – A Small Remembrance”
  1. Living in Berkeley in the early 1960’s I first knew Gary through his brilliant and inovative programming with the Oakland Symphony. A frequent winner on TeleMusic Quiz, enabled me to take in several of his concerts, notably a “Missa Solemnis” and an hair raising Ives Fourth Symphony, with the chorus seated Oxford style throughout the audience. In 1967, at the Cabrillo Festival and through an invitation from visiting artist Noel Lee, a friend of Gary’s whom I’d established contact with, I was honored to finally meet him, and was a guest for that week at his rented beach house in a gated area in Aptos. It was a magic time, meeting Lou Harrison at his home above the sea, taking in the festival, and spending many nights hearing about the good old days with Nadia over marvelous meals, listening to Lou’s Second Symphony on a tape made with the Oaklnad Symphony. Our friendship was sealed one afternoon as we bobbed in the shallow surf one afternoon. The sky became black with cormorants as they dived next to us, seeking grunion, seeking the beach at high tide. We had survived an attack right out of Hitchcock! Gary was too funny for words, and over the following years, we visited whenever we could; me meeting his Mother in Seattle, and he visiting me to compose at my parents beach cabin in Yachats, where I was organizing a Summer Music Festival.
    I shall miss this man and kind soul. I have so many memories and would love to share them, should someone put together a book in his honor.
    Robert Huffman

  2. Eero Richmond says:

    I was honored to know Gerhard for about 40 years. One year he showed up at my apartment here in Brooklyn on New Year’s Eve with two of his students. It was such a special gettogether. I loved Gerhard for his tremendous interest in everything and everyone, not just music — though of course music dominated his life. My sympathies to you, Achim. RIP dear Gerhard.

  3. Thanks for comment. Gerhard was a caring, concerned person, as well as a complete musician / artist with a phenomenal ear. He told me how he was once with Boulanger who noticed a carillon playing, and stopped, like Alex North, who, Tony Franciosa, told me, would always notice music wherever he was, and say “Listen”. Artists with generous hearts like Gerhard are always to be cherished

  4. I was doing a masters in composition at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music in the mid-1990s. Maestro Samuel was the music director and conductor of the CCM Philharmonia, and had turned it into a professional-grade ensemble.

    He always made it a point to do composer readings, and was generous with suggestions when the Philharmonia read my Adagio for euphonium and orchestra.

    He was truly a musician and composer of the highest caliber.