Where’s Gunther?

A number of attendees at the Tanglewood 2010 Festival of Contemporary Music were puzzled by the absence of one of its three co-curators: Gunther Schuller. In a pre-concert lecture on Monday featuring the festival’s other two curators, Oliver Knussen and John Harbison, his name was only briefly mentioned, despite the fact that he helped to program the festival.

So, why was Schuller absent from the FCM? Apparently, he accepted a conflicting conducting engagement at the Edinburgh Festival. On 8/14, he conducted an All-American program with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra: Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait, the jazz band version of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (with Steven Osborne as soloist), and Charles Ives’ Fourth Symphony.

While Schuller’s been in Edinburgh, his fellow co-curators have been very busy: nearly omnipresent. To the credit of both Knussen and Harbison, they’ve been at every festival performance, either appearing as conductors or listening from the audience. As Knussen put it during the pre-concert talk, “I don’t generally find myself as an audience member much these days, in fact I usually avoid it, but I’ve been enjoying hearing all of the music on these programs.” They’ve both also been involved in preparing the performances, listening in on rehearsals and coaching the various chamber ensembles.

The pieces singled out for praise by both Knussen and Harbison weren’t necessarily by composers with whom they’re generally associated. Much of the talk focused on works by Bruno Maderna, Lukas Foss, and on the one composer who they most regretted omitting from the FCM programs: Luigi Dallapiccola. (The latter composer appeared elsewhere this summer on a TMC program.)

While the curators’ self-effacement was gentlemanly, one wished that they’d have discussed their chamber operas, Harbison’s Full Moon in March and Knussen’s Where the Wild Things Are, which were performed on Sunday night’s concert. Perhaps the BSO should take a cue from the New York Philharmonic’s recent employment of YouTube as an educational tool. Before everyone departs, they should get some interview footage up on the web about this extraordinary week of contemporary music!