Composer  Gene  Gutchë

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Gene Gutchë (born Romeo Maximilian Eugene Ludwig Gutschë) (July 3, 1907, Berlin – November 15, 2000, White Bear Lake, Minnesota). Composer. While much of his work is neo-Romantic, he also experimented with polytonality, serialism, and microtones.

His interest in piano attracted Ferruccio Busoni, who became his teacher despite his parents’ objection to his musical interest. He also took linguistics, philosophy and business at the Universities of Lausanne, Heidelberg and Padua. At age eighteen (1925), he left Germany for the U.S.A., and finally settled in Minnesota. At the University of Minnesota, he studied music with Donald Ferguson, earning a masters in music in 1950, continuing at the University of Iowa, where he received his doctorate in composition in 1953.

Gutchë received various awards for his compositions. In 1958, he received the Minnesota State Centennial Prize for his Third String Quartet, followed by the Luria Award for Holofernes Overture in 1959. In 1961, he was awarded the Albuquerque National Composition Prize for his Fourth Symphony and the Louis Moreau Gottschalk Gold Medal for Piano Concerto Op. 24. His Fifth Symphony received the 1962 Oscar Esplá prize.

His work was commissioned by the Cincinnati Symphony, the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony, the National Symphony, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the University of Minnesota and several others. His magnus opus, Akhenaten, was premiered by Leonard Slatkin and the St. Louis Symphony in 1983. Icarus Opus 48 , (a four-movement suite ), The Sea, Insurrection, Isthmus, Genghis Khan, and Bongo Divertimento are just some of his many compositions. Gutchë’s symphonies, piano sonatas, concerti, and string quartets were recognized nationally and internationally.

==  Links in this box and below refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.  BD  

gutche On June 11, 1986, Gene Gutchë made a trip from his home in Minnesota to Chicago for the purpose of spending a few hours with me.  We chatted, had dinner, and chatted some more, before he returned home that evening.  Needless to say, it was a most special day in my life, and I hope that my presentations of his music and ideas on WNIB, Classical 97, WNUR, Contemporary Classical Internet Radio, and aboard United Airlines justified his time and expense.  In addition, the United Airlines entertainment package (which ran for two months), was also placed on Air Force One, the Presidential Jetliner.

He was a wonderful speaker, and often he would let his thoughts move from one reminiscence to another.  Mostly, he guided the narrative directly, but occasionally he would interrupt his train of thought to tell a story.  Often serious, his tales were spiced with humor, and we filled two ninety-minute cassettes.  
Needless to say, I was smart enough to just let him speak without many interruptions.  Occasionally he would ramble as he thought back to his earliest days, and his many triumphs.  At one point, he even asked if he had answered my question because of all the side-tracking.  (I assured him he had.)

Now, as we near the end of 2020, I am happy to give his remarks a new audience via this webpage.  I have trimmed a few bits which were extraneous, and where he mentions a name that is less-familiar, I have added a box with a brief bit of information, as well as a photograph.

Here is what was said . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   When you’re writing a piece of music, for whom do you write?

Gene Gutchë:   For the people.  I have always said that I believe artists must always have the people in mind.  One must not fall into the fallacy that you’re writing down to the people so they can understand you.  In any form, whatever it is, the simpler and more direct you think, the more profoundly you reach the people.  The whole essence of art, for the artist who has creative vent, is like a mirror.  He holds it up to the people, and what is reflected there, he puts down in whatever form he writes.  That is why we remember people like Brahms, like Beethoven, like Mozart, like Bach.  They were always concerned about the people, because whatever was reflected, they wanted to be understood.  The reason these great composers stand up is because they came closest to really showing what the people within that period did, and what they thought, and how they worked, and what they achieved.  To me, that is the most stirring thing that a person can do.  However you do it, that has nothing to do with technique because that is only part of your craftsmanship.   First of all, you become conscious of the fact that you have the talent.  We had a Bechstein [piano] at home, and as a little boy of four, I’m not exaggerating when I say that I struck one note, and my tears began to come down.  It sounds terribly sentimental for someone who is not so quite attuned as I am to a feeling for the greatness of music, and I say this simply because you have to really be born to a certain thing.  Then, as you become conscious of it, what you do is your interest.  Everything you are reaches out to grasp and absorb as much as possible of what is before you.  Of course, you can’t do it by yourself.  You have to look at composers, and listen to their music.  As soon as you are able to read music on paper, you begin to see and learn from them how they became, and what they did.  Take for instance, the most popular of all works, music of Beethoven.  Look at his sketches.  There are thousands of sketches that this man made, and of the thousands that he made, he realized that only a trifle could be made into something that reflected his period, and the thinking of the people.  The most wonderful thing that can happen to an artist is when he is performed, and has a piece of his music that was heard.  When he walks out to take a bow, there is this tremendous applause.  There’s a great inner satisfaction because you realize that within that applause is the meaning that what you’ve done has been understood.  That is the most vital thing for an artist, and it is something that we today, unfortunately, have completely ignored, if not set aside.  Today we live today in a world of total mechanical means and technology.  I’m not saying anything against it, because everything has its place in life.  But in so doing, we produce a mass of many things we don’t need, and all of these things are intended purely with only one purpose in mind
that you use it and get rid of it as fast as you can, and then beg for something new.  This is an exact contradiction of the world up to the time when we enter the Twentieth Century.  Before, you created thingswhether it was a building, or a painting, or anything that man createsbut it was meant to last.  I’ve lived in Switzerland where their houses are made from granite, and have stood for more than 500 years.  If you go to Italy, you find marble buildings that have stood for centuries.  They were meant to be remembered, and the things that you find there are most outstanding.  One can only sit there in silence and in awe, not because the men thought in terms of creating anything great, but rather because they gave something to the world that should always be remembered.  To me, that’s very important.

BD:   When you write music, do you expect it to last for a long time?  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at right, see my interviews with David Zinman, Jorge Mester, and Max Rudolf.  Also, the original LP jackets of the individual recordings are shown farther down on this webpage.]

Gutchë:   That’s what I want.  I want my music to speak to people, no matter how I do it.  I wrote letters to every conductor in this country, and all over Europe, and throughout the world.  I did this, every three months.  Every quarter of the year I did this.  It represented pretty close to about 1,800 letters.  It had simply to do with the matter that I had a work for them to consider.

BD:   When was this?

Gutchë:   It began around 1953, shortly after I got my Ph.D.  [Tells a story]  One time, I was introduced to an orchestra as
Dr. Gutchë.  I said, “The only time I use my title is when I go to the bank for a loan!  After the laughter died down, he asked if there was anything I would like to say about Akhenaten [the work they were about to rehearse].  I said, “When I first started the sketches of Akhenaten, the lady downstairs called the police department, and said, ‘You better hurry up over here.  The guy upstairs is murdering Beethoven!  Before you know it, two uniformed men, police officers, crashed in my door demanded, ‘Where’s Beethoven?  I had to tell them the truth, so I said, ‘He’s dead, and so they shot me.  [Huge laughter all around]  Credo qui absurdum est [I believe because it is absurd].

BD:   [Returning to the interview]  You were talking about the letters you wrote to conductors all over the world...

Gutchë:   Let’s take this from the beginning.  
Ferruccio Busoni was my teacher, but not in the beginning.  His protégé, Magnani, became interested.  At that time I had a phenomenal memory... which only to a small degree is true.  I could look at a scorenot an orchestral score, as I was too young for that; I’m talking about the age of sevenbut a piano score, and I would have memorized it.

BD:   This is a photographic memory, so you would see the score in your mind?

Gutchë:   How should I put it?  [Tells a story]  Somebody asked me once how I compose, and I told them what Walter Piston told me when he was asked the same question.  He said,
“My wife and I live in one house, but she has her own section of the house and I have mine.  She is a painter, and in the morning I fix my own breakfast.  But the first thing I do, even before I set my plate at the table, I take my pencil and I have staff paper, and I put down a note.  Then I go and fix the toast and eggs with jam and honey, and put everything on the table.  While I’m eating, I look at this note, and after the first bite I put a stem on, and you can see there’s a quarter note.  But by the time I’ve finished my eggs and my toasted sandwiches, I look at this very carefully, and before I go to class to teach, I erase that note.  [Both laugh]  That was Walter Piston.  [Returning to the interview]  I came to America in 1925.  At one time they used to say ’26, because after all the years I’d forgotten.  But now I have corrected it, so it’s 1925.  I came through Galveston, Texas.  I knew absolutely no English, although at that time I did know fluently Italian, Spanish, French, and two dead languages, Greek and Latin, and of course German.  Most musicians have an ear for language.  I must also point out that whereas my father’s fathermy grandfatheractually immigrated from Alsace-Lorraine to Berlin in Germany, and then became a German, he was a French man.  That’s why my name is actually the French, originally spelled Guoché, but naturally the German people would not know how to pronounce it so my grandfather changed it to Gutschë.  No matter, my father was born in Berlin, and he married a Polish countess.  I was born in 1907, and in those days it was the same habit that the Spaniards have where you string together a whole group of first names.  Everybody got into the act, and my father had a very close friend who was an Italian food merchant.  My father was a wholesale food merchant, and he became very wealthy during the First World War by shipping all the fruit that came from Italy to Germany.  But the only way he could do that was to get this Italian friend to ship the merchandise.  They were very close friends, and he said at that time, “If you ever have a son, I want to be his Godfather, and I want you to call him Romeo.  So they did that, and I don’t know who, but others wanted Maximilian, and another wanted Eugene, and yet another called me Ludwig.  So, that’s how I was born with a whole, what you might call, appendicitis of names.  During the First World War we lived in Zurich, Switzerland, and that’s where I took up piano lessons.  In what was known as the middle-class of Europe, the usual practice was that every child in such a home was brought up to learn how to dance, to speak several languageswhich was not difficult in Switzerland because there you speak French, Italian, and German, plus all the dialects which I, at one time, spoke.  We knew the most basic of things, and in our familywhich was true of all European familiesyou weren’t even allowed at table.  What is that old phrase?

Children should be seen and not heard.

Gutchë:   Yes, and it stopped right there.  It wasn’t until we perfected ourselves that we were finally able to come to the dining table when there were guests.  We were permitted to bow, and my sister would make a courtesy.  Then after the meal, we would have to say,
I’m happy to meet you,” almost like a robot.  [Imitates a robot speaking, and laughs]  Then the children were told to leave.  In my youth, I went to the Gymnasium up to the Sechter (Sixth) level in Berlin, and there I was told that the Germans were the most superior people in the world.  It wasn’t when Adolf Hitler was around.  They were superior before Hitler came.  They said that the French were all eyes, and the Italians were swine, and the Spanish were all hypocrites.  Of course, I absorbed all this, because I was only a boy then.  In the Gymnasium, you start going before even you reach the age of five, but it also means that you have to have normal intelligencenot superior, but normal intelligence.  When I came to Switzerland, I learned right away that I generally had a good gift for languages.  I immediately learned the Swiss dialect for the Zurich Canton.  Incidentally, in every one of the cantons of Switzerland there’s a dialect which is slightly different.  I went to school there only for a very short period, because the very first thing, because of my age, they put me in third grade.  But when they found out I could read and write, they put me in the fourth grade, and when they found out that I was far more advanced at mathematics, they put me in the fifth grade.  So, within that one year I started at third grade, and when I finally leaned the dialect, the Swiss were telling me that the Germans were all idiots, and the Frenchmen are all swine, and the Italians were just fools.  When I got to Italy, the Italians told me really that the Germans were swine, and this ranged throughout the countries.  By that time, even at the age of nine, you got the feeling that no matter where you go on this world, you will find swine, you find hypocrites, you find liars, you find cheats, but there are also good people.  That was the first lesson in my life in which I learned something.  

gutche BD:   By this you learned about people, and about the human condition?

Gutchë:   Right!  I’m glad you said that.  The most important thing for an artist is to go amongst the people.  When I lived in Germany, of course, that was the way I was born and I acted like a German.  But when I was in Switzerland, I became totally Swiss, not only by speaking the language, but by dressing like a Swiss, and thinking like one.  My mother was a Catholic, my father was a Protestant, and I went to the Zwinglian School in Zurich, which is a reformation school.  I didn’t like that at all.  When I was in Italy, I went with all the rest of the students to High Mass and Low Mass, and I was just like them.  My father loved to walk, and I did too.  We went up what you would call a mountain here, but the Swiss would laugh at you because to them it’s just a hill.  [Both laugh]  The Swiss farmers
or peasants, they call themtake their cows every Spring up to the Alps.  There, the grass is the richest, and yields the finest milk.  People today like to go to Europe, often on a flying tour of seven or eight days.  I stayed there for many years, and really got to know the cities and the people, and the things they do.  Most people, and especially the French, are very courteous.  However, when somebody speaks French in the way that you expect someone who took quick lessons at Berlitz, or maybe even learned it at a university, it’s not idiomatic.  It’s academic, and that’s why, when I came to America, it took me more than a few minutes to be able to be understood, and be able to speak so that people would know what I was sayingnot that it was perfect, but I listened with an ear to what they were saying.

BD:   Not just the sounds, but also the nuances?

Gutchë:   That’s right, and also the way they use those words.  For instance, just as a crude example, to say,
How are you? in French, no Frenchman in Paris would think of saying, “Comment vous portez-vous?”  When he meets a friend, he’d say, “Ah! Ça va?” which means, “How goes it?  The Italians would never think of saying Buongiorno.  They’d say, Elà, and then would say, Ciao!”  If you are a tourist, these are things that make you stand out as an outsider.  When I went to the University of Padua, on weekends I used to go to Venice, because I loved it there, especially in the Fall before the smells came in from the lagoons.  I would stay at the same hotel for about 12 or 24 lire a night.  Now, if you look at the travel section of The New York Times, it’s says that at the same hotel, they only charge in dollars, and it can even be from $148 to $375 a night.  Just think of that!

BD:   [Musing]  That’s all I can do
think of it!

Gutchë:   [Bursts out laughing]  That’s right!  You have the same sense of humor as Peter Ustinov, in his Romanoff and Juliet.  [Returning to the topic]  Developing a talent is not just a matter of time, it must also be a matter of environment.  I came to America to get away, because my father wouldn’t let me go into music.  I went away from home twice, and finally we made a compromise.  He said I could take a degree at a university in political science.  I didn’t think that I would like to do that.  He got the ticket for me, and gave me $500, and I left.  I landed in Galveston, and then went to San Antonio, and had a great time until I spent all the money.  I met a man there who lived in a suburb, and he said that if I had any problems just come and see him.  That’s what I did after the money ran out, and I was with him for about two and half months.  By that time I was able to speak reasonably well.  Then I left, and I did all kinds of things that had absolutely nothing to do with music, and I wondered if I would ever get back to music again.

BD:   [Picking up the obvious cue]  Now I am supposed to ask if you ever did get back to music!

Gutchë:   [Laughs]  Yes, but even then I didn’t, and I never thought I would.  Some time after that, I met Marion.  She was then only past fifteen years of age, and I was eleven years older than she, and I fell completely in love with her.  However, I had very strange ideas about not wanting to get married.  Why I would think that, I don’t understand.  It was simply a matter of idiocy.  At any rate, I knew I loved her very much, and I said that I was going to go to New York.  She said she’d go with me.  I said I was not going to marry her, and she said she didn’t care.  I said she had better think about it.  Finally it developed that I went out to see her parents, who lived in Elko, Minnesota, about thirty miles from the twin cities.  He owned a grocery store, but there was something so simple and so forthright, that in my own mind I said nothing.  But when we left and went back to my office, I told Marion I was going to marry her.  At any rate, we went to New York.   This was back in 1935.  I did know languages, so I went to the Berlitz School and the man who ran the school said they didn’t have any positions available.  What’s more, he said that I wouldn’t earn enough money, but if I had no objection, he would send me to a place where they would be very interested to have me as a guide, to take people from foreign counties and give them guided tours.  So, I went there, and they hired me on the spot.  They paid me a salary of $22.50 a week.  That was the Gold Standard, you know!  [Both laugh]  Marion and I had a nice little apartment on Riverside Drive, which cost $60 a month, and at the end of the first week, with the $22.50 we just came out even.  I stayed with the tour company for about a year, and we saved our money.  We were going to take a trip around America and see it, so we bought a Chevrolet coupe.  They had the rumble seats which were open at the back.  By the time we paid cash for the car, we looked at what was left and made a trip to see America.  We were probably silly in doing it, and we later decided we’d try to get our jobs back.  Marion was a secretary to a doctor, a specialist on Park Avenue, but when I went back to the tour company, they didn’t have an opening.  Whether they didn’t want me back because I quit, or whether it was true, I never found out, but I got other jobs in different business.  The doctor Marion worked for had famous people coming, such as Greta Garbo, and Somerset Maugham, and the Director of the Metropolitan Opera House, and the Chairman of NBC.  I mention this because we got all kinds of tickets to go to the Met.  I was sitting behind Leinsdorf when he conducted.  We always had tickets, and somehow I always managed to get in, but our work was then to make a living.  There was no room to even think about music.  Much more, I needed an education, so I did all kinds of work.  After I got fired five or six times, Marion said,
I’ve been watching you, and you’re wasting yourself.  There’s only thing for you to do.  You’ve got to be in music, but you don’t know a thing about music.  We’re going back to Minnesota, and even if I have to scrub floors, you’re going to go to school, and you’re going to learn all there is to know about music.  So, we did just that.  Fortunately, she didn’t have to scrub floors.  She got another secretarial job with a very famous urologist, whose name was Dr. Frederic Foley.  He was responsible for the catheter, and many other inventions, and on top of that he was a great human being.  He was in charge of two hospitals in St. Paul, and of course he had his own practice.

foley Dr. Frederic Eugene Basil Foley, MD (April 5, 1891 – March 24, 1966) was an American urologist who is remembered for designing the Foley catheter.

He studied languages at Yale University, receiving a bachelor's degree in 1914, and then trained in medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine until his graduation in 1918. He subsequently worked with William Halsted and Harvey Cushing, and worked at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, Boston on the junior surgical staff. Although there is no record of his training in urology, he was certified by the American Board of Urology in 1937. Foley worked as a urologist in Boston, Massachusetts and later became chief of urology at Ancker Hospital, St. Paul, Minnesota. (Ancker hospital was renamed St. Paul Ramsey Medical Center and is now known as Regions Hospital.)

Foley first described the use of a self-retaining balloon catheter in 1929, to be used to achieve haemostasis after cystoscopic prostatectomy. He worked on development of this design for use as an indwelling urinary catheter, to provide continuous drainage of the bladder, in the 1930s. His design incorporated an inflatable balloon towards the tip of the tube which could be inflated inside the bladder to retain the catheter without external taping or strapping. He demonstrated this to the American Urologists Society in 1935, and published a paper describing it in 1937. While he was still developing his catheter, a patent was issued to Paul Raiche of the Davol Rubber Company of Providence, Rhode Island in 1936. Four months later, in October 1936, Foley applied for the patent, and was awarded this after appearing before the patent office Board of Appeals. Raiche appealed this decision in court, and it was overturned, returning the patent to Raiche. A further request for a hearing made by Foley was refused, and so the patent stayed with Raiche.

The C. R. Bard Company of New Jersey started distributing the catheters, under the name of Foley catheters, from 1935; consequently, the name has remained with Foley despite the patent having remained with the Davol Company. Although the materials used to make catheters have changed, the basic design of the 1930s has not.

In addition to his work on urinary catheters, Foley also described a novel technique for treating strictures of the pelvi-ureteric junction which is known as the Foley Operation or the Foley Y-plasty pyeloplasty. He also invented a hydraulic operating table and a rotatable resectoscope, and described the first artificial urethral sphincter.

He brought in doctors who had gotten their M.D., and had practiced, but wanted to became urologists.  He would ask them to come to St. Paul, and he would pay for their rent, their food, and everything.  He also used to give parties, and Marion, being his personal secretary, would naturally always be invited, along with me.  
I used to work as a night watchman on weekends to get a little extra money, and then, the next morning, I would be at the university taking classes.  Then one sweet day, Dr. Foley took me up to the porch of his house, and said, Gene, I don’t know a damn thing about music, but anybody who is as bullish as you, I am going to see to it that you’re going to get an education.  So, he and another wealthy man by the name of Mr. Coleman, who was the President of the Minneapolis Symphony at that time, got together and put up enough money to pay for all my university books, and even part of my living.  I went to the University of Minnesota for about a year and a half, and they gave me a Master’s degree.  I already had two degrees from Europe.  Believe it or not, I never took them with me, and since they were in our house in Berlin, which was blown away during the Second World War, there was no evidence.  You can call me a liar if you like... I don’t care, because a degree is not what makes the man, but what he does.  At that time, the music department of the university only gave Master’s degrees.  There was a teacher by the name of James Aliferis, who conducted the Chorus of the Minneapolis Symphony.  He was a fantastic and brilliant musician.  But first, I took lessons from Donald Ferguson.  I had a class in composition with him, and he was the darndest man I ever knew.  At the first composition class, about our assignment he said that whatever we wanted to do, go ahead and write it.  So, I went home and wrote a fugue.  I’d never read a book on fugues.  I’d heard all the fugues of Bach, and even played them, so my knowledge was purely that of the ear.  I wrote this fugue, and I brought it in for my first assignment.  Ferguson looked at it, and at that time I could play reasonably well.  He just sat there, and then asked if this was the first fugue I ever wrote.  I said it was, and Ferguson said I should see Dr. Aliferis.  So, I went and knocked on his door, and said that Professor Ferguson had sent me, and asked me to show you this music.  He looked at it, and asked if I had written it.  I said that I had, and he asked how many years of composition I had taken.  I said none, and that this is my first lesson.  I never went to school before this in America.  The only teacher that I ever had was Ferguson, and he only took me as a special student.  Aliferis really taught me a great many things.  After getting my Master’s degree, they arranged for me to go to Iowa to get my Ph.D.  The Dean of the music school was a man by the name of Clapp.



Philip Greeley Clapp
(August 4, 1888 – April 9, 1954) was an American educator, conductor, pianist, and composer of classical music.

He served as Director of the School of Music at the University of Iowa for more than three decades (1919–53), helping to establish that school’s strong reputation in music and in the arts overall.  

He worked especially hard in advocating that music and the other arts should be an integral part of a liberal arts education, and succeeded in creating strong graduate programs that awarded degrees not just in scholarship and research but also in performance and creation.

By that time, I had already written three quartets and a First Symphony, a very romantic work.  Before I went to Iowa, while still at the University of Minnesota, the Chairman of the Music Department said the greatest complaint he had heard about me was that I never attend any classes.  I was constantly over at rehearsals with the Minneapolis Symphony.  He asked me if that was true, and when I said it was, I reminded him that on the exams I was getting all As.  So he had no complaint.  [They laugh]  The reason I bring this up is because Mitropoulos was then conducting the Minneapolis Symphony.

BD:   He was a fine conductor.

Gutchë:   Of course.  But the first time I went there, I tried to sneak in, and the stage manager told me to get out!  I was able to see Mitropoulos, and I said,
Maestro, I would consider it very worthwhile, and a great privilege if I could attend your rehearsals.  He replied, We don’t do that there.  As I walked away, he said, Wait a minute!  Weren’t you a student of Busoni?  I remember you.  You played one of the Beethoven sonatas when I was there in Zurich.  Of course you can go in any time you want to.  The stage manager always hated me, but I used to sit always in the wings.  The reason I did that was because when I had attended rehearsals in Europe, if you’re sitting in the right wing or the left wing, you could see what the conductor did.  He also did everything from memory, even at rehearsals.  He could look at a score, and could tell you anything you wanted to know.  He was a marvelous conductor, and then he had this wonderful thing he did for me.  At the end of each rehearsal, as I would walk across to the stage, he said, Gene, come to my dressing room.  Now most people would have thought of something else, because he was known as a homosexual.  But there was never any thought of that, and some people said they didn’t even think in those terms because I wasn’t his type  [Laughs]  At any rate, the first thing he did was eat fruit.  He’d eat a banana, and then he’d eat a peach, and then he ate grapes, and while he did all this, he would ask me what I had been writing lately.  At that time I was very proud, for I had written a tone poem with full orchestra, a Straussian orchestra.  The next week I came with my score, and as I sat in the wings I could hardly wait till he got through the rehearsal.  He commented on the length of my piece, and then looked at each page.  He said, One thing I’m going to tell you... don’t write like that anymore!  I asked him how he could possibly tell that from just glancing at the pages, and volunteered to sing some of the melodies and themes.  But he started out, and spoke of this detail and that detail, and that’s how I became aware of this fantastic memory he had.  He showed me all kinds of things.  This went on for quite a while.  [Tells a story]  Roger Sessions had written a Violin Concerto, and the world premiere was going to be done with the Minneapolis Symphony under Mitropoulos, with Louis Krasner the violinist.  Krasner memorized every note, and played it completely from memory.  But Mitropoulos also memorized the score, and told me to take it home to look at it.  It’s a very difficult score, but he wanted me to see it.  I studied it very carefully, and of all the works that Sessions wrote, it’s that one which impressed me the most of all.  When I brought the score back, they were rehearsing.  When they were finished and I walked across the stage, he put his arm around me and in a very low voice said, “You know how difficult this work is.  I said, “Yes, and I can’t understand how you have absorbed all this!

The Violin Concerto by Sessions (1896-1985) was begun, at the suggestion of Serge Koussevitzky, in the summer of 1927—although the composer later postdated the beginning of this work to his years at the American Academy in Rome in 1928 and 1929—and was completed in 1935. It is scored for violin and orchestra (without violins).

Sessions regarded his concerto as a pronounced move away from his previous neoclassical style. According to Elliott Carter in The Musical Quarterly, it marks the beginning of his characteristic, unique style featuring extended, continuously flowing sections in which ideas surface, gain clarity and definition, and then recede again into the general flow.

krasner20 It was originally meant to have been premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra during their 1932–33 season, with Richard Burgin as soloist, but Sessions did not finish the finale—originally to have been the third movement—in time. Ultimately deciding on a four-movement form, Sessions delivered the violin part to Burgin in the fall of 1934, while still orchestrating the last movement, and Koussevitzky agreed to program the Concerto during the first half of the 1935–36 season. When Sessions expressed a preference for a better-known violinist, Burgin graciously stepped aside and Joseph Szigeti was named as the probable soloist. The Concerto was finally completed in San Francisco in August 1935. The premiere was scheduled to take place in November 1936, but the now-intended soloist, Albert Spalding, asked for a postponement and requested that Sessions compose a new finale. Sessions declined and released the violinist of his obligation to perform. Spalding could not master the violin part, especially the "punishingly fast" tarantella finale, and the performance was canceled at the last minute.

The work was finally given its first performance with a professional orchestra by Louis Krasner [shown in photo at left] and the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos, on November 14, 1947, though an earlier performance had been given in Chicago on January 8, 1940, by Robert Arthur Gross, the WPA Illinois Symphony Orchestra, and Izler Solomon, and Gross also performed the first two movements in 1941 with the National Youth Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski.

*     *     *     *     *

Louis Krasner (June 21, [O.S. June 8] 1903 - May 4, 1995) was born in Cherkasy, in present-day Ukraine. He arrived in the United States at the age of five, and graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music in 1922. He continued his studies with Lucien Capet in Paris, Otakar Ševčík in Písek, Czechoslovakia, and Carl Flesch in Berlin. His concert career began in Europe, where he championed the concertos of Joseph Achron and Alfredo Casella.

In 1935 he commissioned Alban Berg's Violin Concerto, which he premiered on April 19, 1936 in Barcelona, with Hermann Scherchen conducting the Pablo Casals Orchestra. He also premiered Arnold Schoenberg's Violin Concerto in December 1940, with Leopold Stokowski leading the Philadelphia Orchestra. Among the American composers whose works he premiered were Roger Sessions, Henry Cowell and Roy Harris.

Krasner retired from solo performing to become concertmaster of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra 1944-1949. From 1949 to 1972 he was professor of music at Syracuse University. In 1976 he joined the faculties of the New England Conservatory of Music and the Berkshire Music Center. He won the 1983 Sanford Medal from Yale University and the 1995 Commonwealth Award.

gutche Mitropoulos was a very great humanitarian, and he was a very brilliant musician.  He was one of the few people who brought contemporary music, not only while he was in Minneapolis, but even when he was with the New York Philharmonic.  [Returns to the interview]  This brings me to a very, very important point.  One may well ask why so little contemporary music is being performed.  Not noticeably, it began in 1980, but from then the repertoire became narrower and narrower, and we have only the regular repertoire of music that reigns primarily within the Classic, and to some extent, the Romantic, and occasionally Impressionistic periods.  If ever a contemporary work was being done at all, it’s usually done under some kind of manipulation.  
[Tells a story which ties into this idea]  Walter Hendl came to the Minneapolis Symphony and conducted William Schuman’s Symphony for Strings, and when he finished conducting, I turned to Marion, who was sitting beside me and told her I was going to write a string symphony for Walter Hendl.  He didn’t know it, and I didn’t know him, but when I went to hear Holofernes in Evanston, with Sydney Harth conducting the Evanston Symphony, he had mentioned me to Walter Hendl, and spoke of my Fourth Symphony.  Hendl asked to see me, and he met me, took me to dinner.  He was very gracious, and he said he was going to do my Fourth Symphony.  I told him that I was very flattered that he would think of doing it, but that I was within about two weeks of finishing a Symphony for Strings, and the only importance of this is that it was inspired by when he came to Minneapolis to conduct the Symphony for Strings of William Schuman.  I said, I was so impressed that I decided to write a Symphony for Strings for you.  Eventually, Hendl conducted it at the Chautauqua Festival, where all the first violinists are concert-masters from around the country.  There was a forum the following afternoon, and Hendl spoke about the Fifth Symphony, and things that people should look for in it.  He said that the composer was there, and the audience may want to ask some questions.  The first question to me was by a man who walked half-way down the aisle.  He said, I would like you to answer me this one question.  Why is contemporary music so ugly?  Fortunately I had my wits about me.  I waited a moment, and I said, Who’s to say what’s ugly?  Who’s to say that’s beautiful?  Perhaps you are walking on the sidewalk, and on the opposite side you see a man without a hat, with this flowing gray hair and a beautiful profile.  You think there is a real individual.  Then you see the woman who is walking beside him, and she is obviously his wife.  But as you gaze upon the wife, you’re horrified to see that not only is she a cripple but she’s pimply all over the face, and she shakes all over.  You wonder how this man could look with such loving eyes at her.  So I ask you, who’s to say what’s beautiful, and what is ugly?  You heard my work, so you might still remember some things.  Let me point you out the third movement.  We lived in a little cottage, and at that time it was Spring.  It was a beautiful day, and what woke me up was the curious atmosphere, a vibration.  Everything seemed to be shimmering.  The sky was just mildly lit from the sun which hadn’t even risen.  My wife was sleeping, and I was looking out the window because our yard was surrounded by oak trees, maple trees, elms, birches, bushes of honeysuckle and lilacs, every flower that you can think of that grows in Minnesota.  The sun was just sending its rays up a cottonwood tree, and on its very top there was a little bird.  As the sun lit it, it sang a beautiful song, and all I did was just copy it.  [Gets tearful trying to describe the beauty]  In that moment, I gave you the gradual awakening of naturethe beauty of the trees, and an unforgettable song of the bird.  Don’t you think that’s beautiful?

BD:   Did you change this man’s mind about the work?

Gutchë:   He said he would listen to it again the next night.  [Tells another story on this same idea]  After I got my degree, which was in 1953, for the next seven years I just wrote music.  I wrote everything, and I read.  The first time I looked at a book about Schoenberg’s style, I puked!  It was just sickening, and Marion reminded me that when I was a little boy, I’d never seen a tomato nor ever eaten one.  So, I took a ripe tomato, and sat on down and ate it, and I puked.  I was so angry at myself that I went back and got another tomato.  I said to myself that I was going to eat it and like it!  She said that’s what I should do with Schoenberg.  So, I read it very carefully, and I found some things that I discovered were intellectually not only unusual, but were written by a man of extraordinary genius.  I took a sample of a twelve-tone row, and wrote the third movement of a quartet on it, and I sent it to Schoenberg.  I told him I would be very grateful if he told me what I’d done wrong.  Soon, I got a very complimentary answer, and he said,
Like I told my student, Alban Berg, you don’t have to necessarily take the whole row.  You can split it up, and write a motivic work on this”.  So, he gave me sound advice on that, and that quartet won the Centennial Award.  But I went also into microtones, and the reason I did that was because Leopold Stokowski came to conduct the Minneapolis Symphony with a work by Carrillo.


Julián Carrillo Trujillo
(January 28, 1875 – September 9, 1965) was a Mexican composer, conductor, violinist and music theorist, famous for developing a theory of microtonal music which he dubbed "The Thirteenth Sound" (Sonido 13).  

He was the last of 19 children.

In 1951, in Pittsburgh, Leopold Stokowski performed for the first time Horizontes: Poema sinfónico (Horizons: Symphonic Poem for violin, cello and harp in quarter- eighth- and sixteenth-tones). The concert was so successful that Stokowski had to repeat the complete work. The next year, Stokowski performed Horizontes in Washington, Baltimore and Minneapolis.

He had written microtone music, not only in quarter tones, but in eighths and sixteenths.  The orchestra didn’t have to do it, but the chamber group had special instruments.  One was tuned a quarter, one an eighth, and so forth.  But the orchestra also were given almost similar, but they always had special markings with an addendum.  I sat there in the rehearsal, and I wondered about the musicians.  Professional musicians read everything at sight.  There’s no such thing as going home, or having to practice parts.  You couldn’t afford them if they did.  They have to be able to read at sight, and I knew that if I was ever going to have a microtone work, I would have to find a means or ways so musicians can read it and play it, and not wonder what this hook means, and what that double line means.  I wrote several works in microtone, and one I sent to the American Music Center.  I simply took one group of flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon, and another group of the same instruments.  Whereas the first group was tuned to the standard A=440, the other had to tune down to A=425 because that’s exactly a quarter tone lower.  Then they just played, and they didn’t have to worry about whether they were playing quarter tones or not.

BD:   It would always be just slightly out of tune?

Gutchë:   Yes, but they didn’t sound out of tune.  It’s the most fascinating thing, and it deals with who’s to say what’s ugly and what’s beautiful.  I sent this microtone piece, which I called Rondo Capriccioso, to the American Music Center.  I had become a member, which was only natural because everything that I had been taught about music I learned from American universities.  So, you can legitimately and legally call me an American composer, but I’m not an American citizen.  That question has come up and I’ve never known really how to answer it.  It took me a while to really say the right thing.  I owe this country a great debt.  They gave me this fine education through those two men who thought I deserved an education, and throughout that time when I started writing, I’ve given everything I’ve done for America to hear.  I don’t expect everybody will listen, and I don’t expect everyone to like it, but from what results and letters I get, I had to finally get an unlisted number, because in the midst of working I would get phone calls.  These were people praising me about what they had heard.  I couldn’t say I was in the midst of work, so would you please shut up and hang up!  So I got an unlisted number so they can’t reach me anymore.  Anyhow, I had sent the Rondo Capriccioso there, and had forgotten all about it, just as I used to send my works to all the competitions throughout the world, and then forgot it.  Years later I got a first prize for my Violin Concerto at Trieste.  The next prize I got was for the Oscar Esplá for my Fifth Symphony.  Lo and behold, about a year or so later, I got a long-distance call from the Associate Conductor to Leonard Bernstein when he was conductor of the New York Philharmonic.  He now is Dean of the music department of Columbia University, and his name is Howard Shanet. 


Howard Shanet
(November 9, 1918 – June 19, 2006) was a conductor and composer.  He started his musical career as a cellist, earning a Bachelor's degree from Columbia in 1939 and a Master's in Musicology in 1941. After military service in World War II, he studied musical composition with Bohuslav Martinů and Aaron Copland, and conducting with Serge Koussevitzky and Fritz Stiedry.  During the early 1950s, he was conducting assistant to Leonard Bernstein at the New York Philharmonic.  In 1953, he joined Columbia's faculty as Professor of Music, later becoming chairman of its music department from 1972–1978.

gutche He said,
I’ve looked over your Rondo Capriccioso, as have several of the men at the New York Philharmonic, and they were all very interested in doing it.  Have you any objection if they did?  I said, No, why should I?  He continued, We formed a chamber group, and every year at Cooper’s Union, New York, which is on 14th Street, we perform.  There is no admission charge, and usually we do contemporary works.  Besides your work, there’ll be a work from a man from Guatemala, and one from Argentina, and someone from France, and Spain.  He told me about the date, and asked if I could come, and I said certainly I would.  And so in, I think it was either January, or February, or even in March, and 14th Street is where all the bums in New York congregate, simply because there’s a library there, and they can get warm.  That night, when we were giving this performance of contemporary music, the house was packed with just these bums who came in not only to get warm, but because it was free.  When I got there that morning, you smelled coffee, and doughnuts, and dirty underwear.  At the performance, my work was done right before the intermission.  The piece only lasted two minutes and some seconds, and the applause was tremendous.  Maybe the doughnuts had something to do with the applause, but at the end, the conductor, Howard Shanet, brought the composers to the podium, and said the audience could ask them questions of their work.  I was asked last because I had the shortest piece, and it’s one of the dearest experiences of my life.  An elderly gentleman, in full dress among all these bums, came down the aisle with a slight limp and an ebony cane and a silver handle.  When he was close to the podium, he raised his stick at me, and said [in an elderly voice], Why do you write crap like that?  There was silence, but after a pause which gave me time for reflection, in a very quiet voice I said, You know, you’re absolutely right!  When I first came to the rehearsal this morning, I really expected the musicians to take their instruments and hit me over the head.  Instead, they had no problems with it whatsoever, and at the end of the piece, they said how much they enjoyed the work.  I was reminded of the time when Bernard Shaw had the world premiere of Major Barbara in the Old Vic.  After it was all over, the people applauded and demanded for the author to came out.  Shaw was just about ready to open his mouth when a cockney up in the gallery said, I say it stinks!  Shaw stroked his beard for a minute, and he said, You know, you’re absolutely right!  But who are we against this majority?  [Both laugh]  Many incidents are simply joyful with musicians and soloists, but I want to say one very important thing that is of a serious nature.  Many orchestras have performed my music, and the greatest frustration that I hear from musicians is that they’re playing the same music over and over again.  The only difference is that instead of having had one conductor, they get one conductor this week, and the next conductor for another week.  Not only that, but every conductor comes with his own ideas of bowing, and the librarian and his assistant have to erase everything in the parts.  They say that sometimes they can hardly read the music because there have been so many erasures.  What I would like to hearand I don’t mean myself, but I speak for the greater majority of professional musicians todayis a contemporary work by a composer who has something to say.  Today you can hear music of any worth at all, and it will come out just as beautifully as it should be.  But the stress!  We have been so concerned with techniques, and with new forms of doing things, that it has given weight to the idea that it’s the only way music should be written today.  We are living in an age of technology, and we see everything more as a mechanical thing.  Mitropoulos didn’t have to go to Minneapolis.  He could conduct anywhere in the world.  He wasn’t just a musician, he was a great artist.  He was a man who inspired not only the musicians, but the people.  But above all, he was also a teacher.  By the time he left Minneapolis, he had raised the musical level to such a power that when Doráti arrived, the layman felt the musicians never played better.  But because they had a new man, and the musicians felt they had to play better, or they’d get fired.  It’s simple and as practical as that.  By the same token, Szell didn’t have to go to Cleveland, but he raised the standard and inspired the players and the audience.  These men brought music which developed the sensitivities and the feeling for tastes, and instilled that quest for more.  This is so vital, and this is the thing that is suffering today more than anything else.  Even the musicians are frustrated.  What they hate most of all is that some American composers write music of such an intellectual nature.  I don’t want to mention the name because I don’t believe in that, but it was a man who is a most respected American composer.  I was told that some of the players even took his music home and studied it, so everything would be done just exactly the way he wanted it.  Then, after all this hard work, there was just a smattering of applause.  I have had the experience that my music is more acceptable.  Some of the players would come to menot everybody, but severaland they would say it’s such a pleasure to do my work.  Not that it is easy, mind you, but at least they feel rewarded.  Then the greatest reward comes when hearing that warm applause.

BD:   When I was listening to Icarus the other day with the score, I felt myself several times just making the motions of the conductor because I felt exactly the same thing that you were talking about.

Gutchë:   This is only natural.  [At this point, he launched into some observations about things being mass-produced, and which were, then, disposable.  This included small items, such as pens, and large items including cars.]

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   We were talking about the disposable lifestyle, and throw-away consumable goods.  How does this carry over into the art of music?  I want to separate this into the art of composing, and the listening to music on the part of the public.

gutche Gutchë:   As I pointed out very early when we started talking, the function of the artist is to hold up a mirror to civilization, and have civilization see it.  The mirror, of course, is that which he creates
whether it’s in the form of a painting, or a sculpture, or music, or prose writing.  Not long ago, we listened to Cleveland Orchestra under their new conductor, Christoph von Dohnányi.  They were doing Ecuatorial by Varèse, Survivor from Warsaw of Schönberg, and the ‘Jupiter’ symphony of Mozart.  If you’re a performing musician, you’re not listening to music, you’re listening to sound.  I make quite a point of the new era that has to do with sound and not music.  Varèse, to my way of thinking, writes not music but sound, and yet what he writes is so completely reflected in what we’re doing.  The sound he produces has an echo in the way we produce and manufacture, and in the way we live.  If you object to the tremendous noise he makes, think of the noise that’s going on in our world today.  In all fairness, Beethoven would never have been to create in such an environment because of the planes going, and the rattling of saws cutting a tree.  You have to have silence.  The mind has to have a chance to reflect, and this comes to the point where I have the rare gift of having an inner life.  Wagner had it, Beethoven had it, Mozart had it, all the best composers had it... not that I’m assuming be a great composer, but I’m trying to say it has to come from the inside out.  A creator thinks from the inside out, but how can he think that way unless he has digested all the things that have happened to him?  In order for an artist to really know how to express himself, he has to allow himself to go amongst the people, no matter what.  Whether he goes amongst people of limited development, or people who are perverted to drugs or other such vices, or goes and gets himself in prison to talk to people, he must go and reach out.  Because of all the experiences he gets, he absorbs all this.  At first, it is so much mush inside of him, and it takes time for his stomach and brain to digest it all.  He will remove that which matters, and retain that, and from it he must try to bring out the very finest that a human being is capable of.  But he must do it in such a way that he is not trying to show humanity as an angel, but in such a way where he appears to be human.  That’s where people like Mozart, and Haydn, and Brahms, and Beethoven reside.  The German word bach means brook, and Beethoven said Bach should not be called a brook, but an ocean!  That’s why I have never regretted in my life that I actually didn’t really begin to write music that can be performed and should be listened to until very late.  After my degrees, I spent about seven or eight years just writing experimental music and tearing it up.  It means reflecting.  The style of writing is a matter of the individual.  It is not a style of the people.  If you meant that, then I would have used words that reflect an accepted norm.  As an example, if we sat at a table and we belched, you would never be invited to that place again because that’s not very polite.  Yet, in India, if you didn’t belch after an excellent meal, you wouldn’t be invited back because the host expects you to belch as a matter of expressing your appreciation.  These are cultural differences.  When we meet somebody, we shake hands and say, “How are you?  Among the Tibetan people, you would not do that.  You stick out your tongue.  That means, “Hello.  We live in a norm of accepted practices.  They may be norms that are based on laws, on religion, and on our economic factors.  Yet you can go to another continent and they may think it’s completely absurd, and vice-versa.  Style in music is something that grows out of the individual who creates, no matter what form he uses to create.

BD:   Have you basically been pleased with the performances you have heard of your works?

Gutchë:   Yes!  I have yet to hear a performance that I did not like, and the best proof of this was when I come out to take a bow.  As Judy Garland used to say, “I always loved the applause!”  [Both laugh]  There have been many bravos.  As a matter of fact, my biggest night came, we might say it was my virginal night, when I lost my virginity, and that was when Howard Mitchell did Holofernes at Constitution Hall (October 26, 1960).  At that time there was no Kennedy Center yet.  [Tells the story]  I had written a letter to Mitchell, asking whether I might submit the work to him.  He replied that I could do it.  
“Frankly, I want you to know that I will look at your music, but I want you to realize that right now on my grand piano, I have a stack of about eight feet of scores, and in all fairness I will have to put yours at the bottom.  Later, when he came to Minneapolis to conduct, I called him at his hotel, and I asked to talk with him about a work that I was going to send.  He asked why I didn’t just send it, and I told him that if I had to wait until he got down to the bottom the pile, I didn’t think it would be worth my while.  He said to just sent it now, so I did.  Every summer we go out to Lake Superior because I suffer with hay fever.  We stay usually there for about two months, and in August a letter from Mitchell was forwarded there.  He said, I’m going to do your Holofernes at the opening concert, and Van Cliburn is going to be the soloist, doing Brahms Second Concerto.  I was lucky that I had the parts because no musician on God’s earth could have written all the parts because they started in September!  It was absolutely stunning, and of course, Van Cliburn not only filled the hall, but the audience was hanging from the chandeliers.  I knew that’s why they were there.  [See portion of a review from the Georgetown Hoya]  World Premieres are always put right before the intermission, and when it was through, there was such a racket and such shouting of bravos, that I came out for nine bows.  The music lasts seven and three-quarter minutes, and I think the applause lasted twelve minutes!  At a reception that evening, Cliburn and I joked and had dinner together.  The critics as a whole, with few exceptions, have always praised the performances of my music.  At the world premiere of Akhenaten with the St. Louis Symphony, people would come up to me and say what a powerful work this is.  I didn’t say anything foolish, because you don’t want to say things you may not want to say.  But one who greeted me was the director of the St. Louis Ballet, and I wish I had taken the plunge and asked him to commission me to write a work.  In Norfolk at that time, the conductor was Russell Stanger.  He used to be an associate conductor to Skrowaczewski.  

Maestro Russell Theodore Stanger

Norfolk - Maestro Russell Theodore Stanger, founding conductor of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra and internationally noted composer and conductor, passed away peacefully on January 7, 2015, in Norfolk. He was born May 8, 1924, in Arlington, MA, to Herbert Theophilus Stanger and Millicent Caroline Stemler Stanger. He acquired an early interest in music and was playing the piano with his twin brother, Herbert, at the age of six and studying violin at eight. He organized his first orchestra of neighborhood children in Newton, MA, at twelve and was regularly conducting music at fifteen. Upon graduating from high school, he received a scholarship to study violin at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.

His education was interrupted by the entry of the United States in World War II. He and his brother Herb enlisted in the Navy and served as aviation radiomen on naval aircraft in the Pacific, where they spent time on the Solomon Islands and participated in the liberation of the Philippines. At the end of the war, Maestro Stanger returned to the New England Conservatory to complete his undergraduate degree in music. He spent three summers at Tanglewood, the summer venue of the Boston Symphony, in Lenox, MA. There he sharpened his skills under the tutelage of many well-known conductors, including Leonard Bernstein, who ultimately became a mentor and close friend.


He earned a master's degree from the New England Conservatory in 1952 and began his professional career as director of the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, followed by three years at the Boston University Symphony Orchestra. During that time, he conducted the Boston Pops as a fill-in for Arthur Fiedler. In 1956, he was selected from 120 contestants as the winner of the Eugene Ormandy National Conductors Competition in Philadelphia. He organized the Boston Little Orchestra in 1958 and served as Associate Conductor of the New York Philharmonic from 1960 to 1962 under Leonard Bernstein. From 1964 to 1966 he was Associate Conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony (now the Minnesota Orchestra).

In 1966, he came to Virginia as the music director and conductor of the Norfolk Symphony (now the Virginia Symphony), and upon his retirement in 1980 was named conductor laureate. Under his leadership the Symphony held its first open auditions and hired its first African-American musicians. He nurtured and inspired the Virginia Symphony to a new level of excellence. His extraordinary talent and warm character strengthened the orchestra and won the support of the entire region. Maestro Stanger conducted the orchestra at the 1972 opening of Chrysler Hall and at the first Harborfest outdoor celebration on the Norfolk waterfront in 1979 with "Boom Boom" Zambelli's fireworks in the background. He was an incomparable orchestra builder and a deeply beloved maestro.

stanger Not one to rest on laurels, Russell traveled to Saratoga Springs, NY, in 1982 as guest conductor of the New York State Summer School of the Arts (NYSSSA) School of Orchestral Studies (SOS) full and string orchestras. NYSSSA SOS is a program for gifted and talented high school musicians whom Russell brought to high levels of achievement during the many years of his tutelage. From 1983 until 2007 Russell was the Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the program. He led over 50 outstanding concerts, inspired over 2,500 young musicians and successfully collaborated with many of the Philadelphia Orchestra's members to provide excellent music experiences for performers and audiences alike. Upon his retirement in 2008 he was named Artistic Director Emeritus for the School of Orchestral Studies.

[Image at left is from a commercial site, thus their watermark]

Maestro Stanger served as guest conductor with some of the leading orchestras in North American and Europe, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Canadian Broadcasting Company Symphony, National Broadcasting Corporation Orchestra, Bilbao (Spain) Symphony, Jalapa (Mexico) Symphony Orchestra, Buffalo Philharmonic, Oslo Philharmonic, Bergen (Norway) Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, Orchestre Symphonique de Reims, and Societe des Concerts du Conservatoire, Paris. He also conducted for Benny Goodman, Isaac Stern, Newport News native Ella Fitzgerald and famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma. During his time in Minneapolis he met and collaborated with the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky.

As president of the Norfolk Sister Cities Association in the mid-1980s, Maestro Stanger developed a long friendship with the musical community of Norfolk's sister city Kitakyushu, Japan. He made a number of trips to Japan, and in 1989 he was commissioned to compose a piece for the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Mukogawa Gauquin, the largest women's university in Japan. He was artistic advisor of the Miyazaki Symphony Orchestra and conducted the Kyushu (Japan) Orchestra in the performance of two of his own works.

In addition to conducting, Stanger composed several works, including Buffoons; A Merry Overture [1963]; Childhood Images [1968]; Rock Opus (for symphony orchestra and optional rock group) [1970]; Episodes '76 [1976]; Symphony No.1, Op.10 ("Kitakyushu") [1989]; Commemorative Celebration[1989]; and Miyazaki, Op.12 [1994].

Maestro Stanger was a long-time friend of F. Ludwig Diehn and a promoter of Diehn's music. Upon Diehn's death and generous bequest to Old Dominion University, Stanger was named an advisor to the F. Ludwig Diehn Fund under the purview of the Hampton Roads Community Foundation. Stanger donated his own collection of photographs, recordings, music notations, original scores and other memorabilia, including letters from Leonard Bernstein, to the F. Ludwig Diehn Composers Room at ODU. In May of 2009, the university awarded Maestro Stanger an honorary doctorate and named the Russell Stanger String Quartet in his honor.

Russell met his wife, Mildred ("Millie") Lanier Sheffield Stanger, a Norfolk native and accomplished interior designer, soon after arriving in Norfolk. They enjoyed travel, entertaining, mentoring, and encouraging each other in their respective professions during their marriage of thirty-two years. He dearly loved and cherished Millie and cared for her compassionately until her death in 2003. In addition to Millie, Maestro Stanger was preceded in death by his brother William Nathaniel Stanger and his nephew, Scott Stanger, both of Spokane, WA. He is survived by his twin brother, Herbert C. Stanger, and wife, Donna, of San Mateo, CA, and two nieces, Dawn Graves of Belmont, CA, and Sheri Hockaday of Redwood City, CA.

Russell Stanger is fondly remembered by his friends around the world as a kind, nurturing individual with exceptional manners and an uplifting spirit. He is remembered by former students and musicians as an energetic director who inspired them to rise to their best. He was cared for and respected as "Maestro" at the Ballentine Home, where he had resided since 2009. His family extends their appreciation for the love shown by his personal caregivers Virginia, Gloria, Shakeena, and Brian, and close friends who visited him often at the Ballentine.

A celebration of life service will be held on Saturday, January 31, 2015, at 11:00 a.m. at Chandler Recital Hall in the Diehn Center for the Performing Arts, 49th Street and Elkhorn Ave., Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA. For details, contact H.D. Oliver Funeral Apartments in Norfolk at 622-7353 or

Memorial donations may be made to Old Dominion University earmarked for the Russell Stanger String Quartet, addressed to the Department of Music, Room 2123 Diehn Center for the Performing Arts, 4810 Elkhorn Ave., Norfolk, VA, 23529.

Published in The Virginian-Pilot on Jan. 25, 2015 (text only - photos from other sources)  

Besides what is shown above, a recording he made with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (London), and pianist, Earl Wild, was given the "Critic's Choice Award." 

The Norfolk Symphony was doing Holofernes, and it was a great success.  He got me to make a little address to the audience, and after that he had me on television, and in addition to all this, he did a regular profile of me, which was later circulated all through the south.  [Pauses a moment, and then starts another story about monetary payment, and his relationship with BMI, the music licensing firm.]  They’re in business, and are not interested in your potential.  The potential is how much money can they make!  But they’re interested how and where this man has been performed, and on the basis of what the performances are, they know the value of what the money potential is.  Then they give you a yearly contract, or a guarantee.  First of all, they give you a contract that will agree to let all your music be consigned to them, and for them to handle it wherever it goes.  It goes all over the world.  It’s not just here in the US.  I’ve gotten royalties from Australia, New Zealand, and other countries.

BD:   Are you satisfied with the contract you have with BMI?

gutche Gutchë:   I am, yes.  But the real money is not in serious music.  That’s chicken feed, because the people that are making the money are in the pop music.  That’s where they run into billions.  But I make more money in royalties from broadcasting than from the performances.  It’s almost laughable... not that I earn any kind of fortune.  Marion and I are fortunate.  When we got married, we went to New York with $60 and a toothpick.  We’ve always learned to live so we enjoy life, not to live it up in order to belong to a certain golf club, where, in order to join you’ve got to get a $500 outfit, and $2,500 golf clubs.  Then you’ve got to become a member of the restaurant, so at the end of the month you get presented with a statement between $3000 and $5,000.  We don’t go along with this kind of life.  We just lead a very simple life.  It’s not a poor life.  It’s very rich in other ways.  We live in a very humble cottage surrounded with a wonderful garden, and trees, and bushes.  We have a quadruped whose name is Peppy, and he’s an orange Belton.  He’s a hunting dog, and I can talk to him just as I am talking to you, and he understands every word I say.  He’s very intelligent.  We live a very rich, but very confined life.  I don’t need to see people for what I do.  The more confined I am, the better is my creative output.

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BD:   Do performers find things in your music that you did not know were there?

Gutchë:   No!  On the contrary, and it’s interesting you brought this up, because this goes even back almost fifteen years.  When they did a work of mine, after it had been rehearsed, the concertmaster came up to me and said,
At first, when we started rehearsing the music, you had made all kinds of indications of bowings, and we completely ignored them.  We just went with our own bowings.  Then, I went home just do your bowings to see how it works out.  After I did, I went to the conductor and told him that we’ve got to use Gutchë’s bowings, because then the piece makes sense.  [Laughs]  The reason for that is that I hear the music inside out.  Let me give you an example.  The Cincinnati Symphony did the world premiere of Hsiang Fei (Oct 21, 1966, conducted by Max Rudolf), and the third movement has a trombone solo.  Not even Tchaikovsky would think of using a trombone for a solo in a symphony orchestra.  Strangely enough, and you might laugh at me, I had the idea long before I even went to school, or before I thought of composing.  We were still living in New York, and I was a guide.  I would come home at midnight or one o’clock, and Marion would have my late dinner ready.  At two o’clock, we would listen to the radio, and I would hear Tommy Dorsey on the trombone.  That man had a real feeling for the instrument.  Another man that I got to know of in that group of musicians was Jack Teagarden.  He was a very great jazz trombonist.  I just listened.  I never asked how they would breathe.  I learned that if you’re looking for legato, you’ve got to make sure that the notes travel on the same slide-position, unless it’s the end of the phrase and then you can switch over.  A very great trombonist, even at awkward moments can do that, even when in a fast tempo, or if he has to skip over to another position and go back.  It can be so smooth and so quick that your ear probably won’t even catch that he has separated the legato.  I wrote what I call not tone poems, but programmatic musicmusic with a text attached to itbecause I felt that people had no idea of what this music is trying to say.  So, by giving them a hint, they would involve themselves and develop their own character through it.  In Hsiang Fei, the brief introductory was that this Emperor of China heard of the beautiful Hsiang Fei, so he orders his knights and get her, even though she was married to another man.  These knights did that, they brought her back, and she wouldn’t even look at him because she loved her own man.  She wouldn’t even talk to him, so he decided that he would make her a bird in a cage.  He built her a beautiful palace which had all the marvelous things that a woman could wish for.  In comes then the Empress, who tells her she should leave, and she would help her to escape.  In the third movement, I show how Hsiang Fei felt without the man she loved, and give this tender emotion.  I believe that Tchaikovsky would have used a horn, but I used the trombone.  I used just my ear when I wrote it, and everybody said it’s the most beautiful solo they ever heard.  In fact, the first trombonist of the orchestra asked who my trombone teacher was.  I said I never had a teacher on the trombone, but he said nobody could write that without having played the trombone.  That’s when the inner ear comes.  Rimsky-Korsakov, who is not as much respected as he should be, has an absolute inner ear.  Wagner was tremendous in that, too.  It’s not just a matter of hearing the instrument, but the feeling that’s expressed through the timbre that lies within that instrument. 


See my interviews with Ross Lee Finney, David Diamond, Leon Kirchner, George Rochberg, David Amram, Elie Siegmeister, Vincent Persichetti, and William Bergsma

gutche30 You asked earlier if I was pleased with the performances, and I always was.  I never disapproved.  Conductors constantly said they’re happy to tell me that the musicians enjoyed playing my music.  Also, the musicians themselves took me aside.  One principal cellist said what a relief it was to play something like that again.  I had many solo parts for cellists.  In fact, I wrote a trio for the concertmaster, the principal violist, and the cellist.  I learned that lesson from Brahms.  How does one rise above being the smallest that you are?  It’s by looking for the greatest, and trying to find out what they did.  Did they just do it for exercise, or did they do it because they had something to say?  This is the thing I would like to emphasize here.  [Pauses a moment before starting another story]  I don’t want to accuse all the composers, but eventually we will dismiss some of these techniques, these new ways of doing things.  One composer, whose name will never be heard from again, wrote a piece that got a first prize.  It was a chamber orchestra work.  Here were musicians who had spent maybe twenty years of their lives to perfect themselves on their instruments.  They were all professionals.  That’s how they made their living.  Here they were sitting and doing this piece, but nobody touched their instruments.  The cellist sat with a little stool in front of him, and he had a little metal bar.  Others were asked to [makes monkey noises], and this went on for about six minutes.  This is an insult to the intelligence of the musicians.  I knew some of the men, and I went to the cellist and asked why they were doing this.  He said,
Because we are getting paid!  [Both laugh]  That’s going to the extreme.  Now I don’t say that all composers do that sort of thing, although I will tell you something about the man I praised a little while ago, Roger Sessions, for his marvelous Violin Concerto.  The year that I won the Minnesota Centennial Award for my Third String Quartet (1958), Sessions was commissioned to write a symphonyhis Fourth Symphony.  Gerhard Samuel, who used to be an associate conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony under Mitropoulos and Doráti was in charge of the Centennial.  Sessions was given $2,500, which was considered big money in those days, to write this symphony.  By late August, just about the week before the season began, Samuel said to me, I haven’t even been able to program the rehearsal yet.  Samuel had written him, “It was under an agreement that you would have your new symphony for us in the Centennial.  Therefore, since you haven’t got it ready, may we ask for our money back?  [Laughs]  Session wrote back, I haven’t got it.  I spent it!  [Much laughter]  Anyway, Doráti said he’d do this Centennial work in the next season.  When the next season came and they played the symphony, it was such a dull work, almost unbelievable when compared to the Violin Concerto, so it got hardly any applause.  As it happened, about two or three months earlier, I had gone to New York to see the man who was in charge of Concert Music Administration at BMI.  As I sat down, next to me I recognized Sessions.  The reason I recognized him was that when he had been in Minnesota for the Violin Concerto, he was asked by the Music Department of the University to address the student body, and talk about the work.  What he had to say was marvelous, except that while he was speaking, he would march around, and shuffle his feet.  Dr. Aliferis was clawing for every word that had been said, and finally we students were asked what we thought of his masterpiece.  One person was raving, and behaved almost like a fellow talking about a beautiful girl.  Finally, when he came to me, I said that it was a great piece, a real fine work of art, and had been done beautifully by the concertmaster and Mitropoulos.  The only thing I would recommend is that you should have gone to the bathroom before coming in this room, because judging from the way you shuffled your feet, you certainly had to go.  [Both have a huge laugh]  [Continues with another story]  The Minneapolis Symphony, which became the Minnesota Orchestra, was always very good.  Charles Munch came along as guest conductor.  As I have told you, I had permission from Mitropoulos to attend all rehearsals.  When I walked in, there was that doorman who shouted, No, you don’t!  You don’t get in there!  He was so loud that Munch turned to me, and I addressed him in French.  Maestro, I know it’s an imposition, but under Mitropoulos, perhaps because he’s known me since I was a student of Busoni’s, he always allowed me to come to the rehearsals.  I would consider it a very valuable thing if I could attend yours.  I’ve never heard you conduct, and I know I would learn a great deal.  Of course, he said yes, and put my chair right next to the podium.  Because he didn’t speak English, I could translate for him, but he didn’t say anything at the first rehearsal.  After the rehearsal we spoke in his dressing room, and he said, “You’re a musician, of course.  What field are you in?  I’m studying to become a composer.  Oh, you’re still unknown!  [Laughs]  He meant that in a jesting way.  He was such a marvelous conductor.  He didn’t have to talk.  He would gesture and bring everything out.  He could phrase things and yet never lose the beat.  It would be always there.  Sometimes in fast sections he would just beat the first bar, because you don’t need the conductor waving his arms all the time.  Anyway, at the last rehearsal, he turned to me and said, “Please tell the musicians that I have never been so overwhelmed by this extraordinary rehearsal, and actually we should have not rehearsed today.  I should have just stopped yesterday because everything was just going beautifully.  The musicians applauded.  He walked out, and I walked behind him.  Then, as he shut the door to his dressing room, he said, Ah, Mon Dieu, [My God]!  They’re awful.  They’re absolutely awful, and from this I learned a lesson.  When you’re dealing with people, don’t always tell them how you feel.  But when he got on the podium that night, he really did make them believe they were even greater than they were.  When musicians look at you, and you know that they know everything that is in that piece of music, he brings it out.  He points at them and they start to play for him.  It was strange that he died (in 1968) in Richmond Virginia while on tour with a French orchestra.  [Pauses again, and then continues reminiscing]  When I was a little more established, I got a letter from Otto Klemperer, who was then with the Philharmonia Orchestra.  He said, I have heard your Fifth Symphony.  I would like you to send the score so that I can study it and perform it.  So, I sent that score to London.  About six or eight weeks went by and I never heard a word, so I finally wrote to him asking if he had received it.  Very shortly after that, I got a letter from his daughter, saying she was very sorry to tell me, but her father had died. 
BD:   You have written one further symphony . . .

Gutchë:   Yes.  I was in Detroit where Sixten Ehrling did the world premiere of my Sixth Symphony.  First of all, I almost never go and sit in the audience.  I can’t stand it.  It is just too uncomfortable for me.  People are looking at me when I want to listen, to see whether everything goes the way I wrote it.  So, I was backstage.  Most orchestras have a television set there, so you can not only see the orchestra, but you can hear it.  Right next to this, where the electric boxes are, and where the engineers turn off and on the lights, is the printed program.  The reason I have it there is because when the first downbeat is given, they clock it, and when it’s done, they clock it.  That way, whatever contract the musicians have, if the concert as much as goes over one half a second, they immediately get paid double time.  Anyway, this particular symphony I wrote like a concerto grosso.  The first movement is only for brass, and the second is only for strings, and third is only woodwinds, and the last movement is tutti [all].  Marion was sitting in the sixth row center, and in front of her were about eight hippies with long hair.  They looked like Jesus Christ had just returned!  They were looking at the program, and she heard them say,
Listen to this!  The first movement is brass only, the second is strings only, then the third is woodwinds.  So what the hell is this tutti shit?  [Laughing]  They actually said that!  I can verify it, because someone sent me the clipping from the Cincinnati Inquirer.  The paper had literally quoted the whole thing just as I told you, which amazed me because I didn’t think they would have printed language like that.

At this point we went out for dinner, after which we returned for a bit more discussion.

BD:   Where is music going today?

Gutchë:   The answer to that is rather enigmatic, because music goes wherever civilization goes.  If the civilization today goes in a line as it’s going now, then our music, or the art of music, will end here.  But it will get us somewhat to be more specific about such things as the people who are interested in the experiment of producing all sorts of multi-colored ideas.  It seems to me that we have, to a degree, abrogated the idea of creating music, because we’re so involved with what is happening in our civilization today.  There’s a preponderance of mechanical sounds.  We’re fascinated by that, but I feel this is just a toy.  To go even a little further, one could say that there comes a time when people who like a certain kind of seasoning in their food become so enamored with it, that they have so much of it that they get tired of it.  There’s a possibility that after people have finally paid off their mortgages on all the things that they get, there’ll come a time when they will want to sit back and say,
“Surely there must be something more than three cars, or a quarter-million-dollar home, or all the latest yachts and jets that I can buy with all the money that I’m making.  This is where it’s interesting, and sort of an analogy.  We’re making so much money, and we have so many products that absorb all the money that we make.  Of course, there’s always going to be those few people who have the mind for this kind of thing.  On the other hand, the rest of us will wonder what it was all for.  But what it really boils down to is where will music go?  That again can only be answered when civilization creates a direction which will create something entirely different, but which is much more identical with what we are.  With the exception of those who write for themselves, the true artists will always want to produce something that people will understand.  And how can they understand it?  They can only understand it if they identify with what the artist has created.  It has to be a part of what we are.  That is really the essence of the human being.  The human being is here not just so that he can forget about using his head, and add figures which are complicated or simple.  What will bring people closer together is when, like you and I are today, sitting and talking to each other.  I am saying anything that comes into my mind, and yet at the same time, they are experiences that actually happened to me, and I relate them in the hope that you will find some joy, some pleasure, some laughter.  All this is in the arts.  Art is not just a principle, or theory, or style.  Art is part of the whole scheme.  The whole scheme is not that alone, but the whole scheme is everything that we are, and it includes not only the human being, but everything that lives and thrives today.
BD:   Are you optimistic about all of this?  [Vis-a-vis the recording shown at left, see my interviews with Krzysztof Penderecki, and Karel Husa.]

Gutchë:   Marion has always admired me when I began writing music.  No matter what the rebuff was, I said,
“Just for that I’m going to do this.  A man named Mischa was the librarian of the Minneapolis Symphony at that time, and was a very close friend of mine, who did all my part-copying.  When I was starting to write music, he saw that I was, if nothing else, very sincere about what I did.  Wherever he could get an opportunity, he would sneak a score of mine under the scores that Skrowaczewski would take home.  That way, he would come upon mine, and Mischa would say, I thought you might want to look at it.  [Laughs]  He never told me that, but I’ve heard it from other people.  But my optimism never left me.  One time, Skrowaczewski wanted to see me in his dressing room, and he said, I’ve been looking at your scores, and I’m impressed with the vitality and the prolific nature of writing.  I wonder if you can write a piece for this orchestra.  I was all aglow, and then he said, “Of course, I can’t pay you anything.  I thanked him and said I’d think about it.  When I left, Mischa looked at me, and asked what had happened.  I said that he wanted me to write a piece, but I’m supposed to pay for it.  First, I pay you, and then I’m supposed to pay for the reproduction.  In fact, I get nothing, but to spend maybe a month, or two months, or three months, and get nothing for it.  Mischa didn’t say anything.  He just took out a bottle of Chianti, drank me under the table, and then took me home.  The next day I told Marion all about it, and she looked at me and said nothing.  I knew she wished she had something she could say to make me feel better, but she knew in such a moment no one can say anything to anybody.  Ten days later I said to her, “Just for that I’m going to write a piece.  So, I wrote Genghis Khan, and as soon as I had it done in pencil, I called Skrowaczewski.  I said, I have a work, and I’m just starting to ink the master, but I still have two more pencil pages.  He immediately said to bring the whole work in and let him look at it.  So I did just that.  I went into his dressing room after a rehearsal, and he looked at the opening.  He seemed surprised, because the opening is only for woodwinds and double bass and percussion, with no other strings.  I told him that the subject matter is a passacaglia, which means subdivisions in the bass.  That’s all he needed.  He said he was going to do it, and he did.  It was the kind of work it should be, but that is the answer to your question.  No matter how low the rebuff sometimes may have been for me, I kept going.  People always say they hate new things.  This is shown in the Lexicon compiled by Slonimsky.  They hate anything that’s different from the accepted.  When you have meat, you use salt and pepper.  It never occurred to them that to put some paprika on it, or to put some sesame seeds on pork, or to put oregano on beef, or to put aniseed on lamb.  These are things that we are taught.  I always go so much into detail because to me life is not just one thing.  There are many things, and this is where the creative artist comes in.  He enfolds everything, and you get all the adjectives that are attributed to the subject matter.  Then you become so rich that you see it in a special manner.  Any truck driver can provide a tune, but it takes a Mozart to turn it into a work of art.  We accuse some composers of having copied from this and that.  It’s all sheer nonsense.  Mozart was a great Haydn-helper.  He would take little subject matter out of Haydn, and he’d create a whole masterwork out of it.  This is what art is all about.

BD:   Thank you for being one of those who turns this into great art.  Thank you for being a composer.

Gutchë:   Thank you for being interested, and allowing me to express all of these thoughts.


By this time, Barbara Petersen was Vice President for Concert Music with BMI.  She helped to arrange several of my interviews with her artists.
Proving it is a small, small world, Petersen is married to my old college buddy, baritone Roger Roloff!

© 1986 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on June 11, 1986.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB five months later, and again the following year, and in 1992 and 1997; on WNUR in 2007, 2013, and 2019; and on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio in 2008.  A brief portion was used (along with music) aboard United Airlines in January and February of 1989.  That package was also used aboard Air Force One, the Presidential Jetliner.  This transcription was made in 2020, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.  To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

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Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.