Sunday would have been the composer Gunther Schuller’s 90th birthday. Instead it became a day of tributes on both sides of the Charles.
Schuller, who died June 21 , was an unsurpassed musical polymath who cut a wide path as a performer, conductor, author, and jazz historian. But it was yet another of his roles — as administrator — that was honored Sunday morning in Jordan Hall. Schuller served as president of New England Conservatory from 1967 to 1977.
It was a period of creative ferment and restless energy, one that amounted to a veritable rebirth for a struggling school.
The ceremony, thoughtfully curated and emceed by New England Conservatory faculty member John Heiss, included reflections from prominent local musicians, school trustees past and present, and others. The precarious finances of the school in that era were a running theme. Through his visionary faculty hires, his wildly ambitious programming, and his curricular innovations such as the creation of a jazz department, Schuller, as his longtime colleague Bruce Coppock put it, “made NEC worth saving.” Former treasurer David Scudder later added: “He instilled a sense that finance was the servant of the mission.”
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