As the candles are blown out for composer Samuel Adler’s 80th birthday this month, he will be celebrating the landmark in the same fashion in which he has lived his entire life: by dedicating his time and energy to the composition of American music and the education of music students.
On Monday, Adler will visit MU at the invitation of the Esterhazy Quartet, a string ensemble that will perform four of his compositions in honor of the occasion. On Tuesday, Adler will give a free master class, open to the
public, that will feature the work of MU student composers.
For the Esterhazy Quartet and music students of MU, Adler’s visit to Columbia provides a valuable opportunity to work with and learn from a figure many consider an institution.
“As an artist, it is extraordinary to work with a living composer who is American,” said Susan Jensen, assistant professor of violin and a member of the Esterhazy Quartet. “He is a big star in the country, and it is great for MU and the community.”
The original plan was to dedicate a concert to the music of American composers. But after speaking with Adler, Jensen was moved to devote the entire concert to his work. “I wanted to try and give an overview of his career,” she said.
Jensen acknowledged that the works chosen are incredibly complicated to put together; Adler has a unique style that requires clocklike precision to perform. However, she enjoys the challenge.
“His music is extraordinary and highly expressive,” Jensen said.
The Esterhazy Quartet will perform Adler’s “Romp” for string quartet, “Divertissment” for violin and marimba, the Eighth String Quartet and “Sonata for unaccompanied cello.”
Music historians have credited Adler with making a significant contribution to American music not only through his composition but also through his role as an educator.
“He loves to engage with students,” Jensen said.
Adler has spent the majority of his life teaching music. Jensen described his approach to life and his work as “vivacious.”
Samuel Adler was born to a Jewish family in Mannheim, Germany, in 1928, a historically rich city known for helping to create the modern symphony orchestra.
In 1939, Adler left Germany to come to the United States, where he studied at Boston and Harvard universities. Adler later taught at the University of North Texas and at the Eastman School of Music. He is currently a
professor of composition at Juilliard School of Music and right now teaches two classes a week.
“He is an institution of both composition and pedagogy,” said Stefan Freund, assistant professor of
composition and music theory at MU.
Freund was educated at Eastman, in Rochester, N.Y., where Adler taught for more than 30 years. Although Freund never studied under Adler directly, his father did, and Freund said Adler’s lessons passed from father to son.
Adler has written several books, including one on orchestration that is a common textbook in composition classes and one of the books Freund gives to his students.
“It is the most important book in advanced orchestration and required reading for composition students,” Freund said of “Study of Orchestration,” written nearly 24 years ago and in its third edition.
“I greatly respect his opinion,” said Freund, who has sent his own pieces to Adler for feedback. “He stresses that music should be the best it can be. By that he means that artists must be willing to take risks and shouldn’t be satisfied with what is easy.”
While in Columbia, Adler will attend a few of Freund’s composition classes, where MU students will be given the chance to show Adler some of their work for comments.
Adler, who is extremely prolific, encourages his students to write continuously. In his lifetime he has composed in excess of 400 pieces, many of which have been performed internationally, and has taught master classes at more than 300 universities worldwide.
“He is always working and writing,” Freund said. “He really does lead by example.”
Adler’s work philosophy is illustrated in the preface to the second edition of his book on orchestration that begins with the biblical quotation, “Thou renewest daily the work of creation.” He follows with an explanation, saying he pursues music “according to this optimistic message to humanity: each day represents a new opportunity.”