Gunther Schuller was the toughest mentor I ever had. He expected professionalism from day one—no introductory foolishness. Gunther challenged us, particularly at New England Conservatory, to do things we thought we were incapable of. What other conservatory would put on performances of Wozzeck and Gurrelieder within a few months of each other? Or work at Tanglewood all summer on the hardest piece I have ever sung, Jean Barraque’s Le temps restitue, a serial composition in the main, with extraordinary difficulties for the singers. Gunther was intrepid; he wasn’t someone you could say no to. He was tough. Gunther also had a sweet side. I’m remembering a time along one of the ways at Tanglewood where he and his driver pulled up alongside me, and he said, “I want you to know that Reri Grist has fallen in love with your voice” (this great Mozartian was our vocal mentor in that particular summer, Phyllis Curtin being at Blossom). I would have to say that the most valuable thing I learned from Gunther was dedication. He made us know that great music deserved everything we had to give. No amount of work was enough; there was always something more that could be done, a phrase that could be sung more beautifully. Though he is gone, he lives in us.
Sitting in my favorite seat in the first balcony up above the Tanglewood Fellows orchestra and hearing the first strains of the Parsifal Prelude reminded me again what a gift we have in the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra. The first strains of the Prelude, with their deep sincerity, got rapt devotion from the young players, under the loving guidance of conductor Ludovic Morlot. Not afraid to take it slow, he let the music unfold almost on its own. This orchestra plays with a kind of identification that I hear nowhere else, and the great Parsifal music which seems lit from within seemed to be their biography. Completely different and also wonderful was the energy and sharpness that Ruth Reinhardt brought to Hindemith’s cool music. In the first TMCO concert, she energized Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra as I have never heard it before. This young conductor is a leader, and she has joy and invests in each and every player. She gets it right back.
There was a subtle and refined performance of Claude Debussy’s Images. Maestro Morlot gave the piece a refined energy- nothing edgy, no special pleading. He let it dance.
There was a rich and lyrical solo from trombonist Dan DeVere in Hindemith’s Konzertmusik
In the first TMCO concert on June 12, there was drama in the playing of oboist Mary Kausek—there was a real sense of hearing in the way she played; there was space, there was suspense.