Professor Emeritus Samuel Adler, who turns 95 this year, retired in 1995 from teaching at the Eastman School of Music, where he served as chair of the composition department. But that hasn’t stopped the prolific composer from working. The nonagenarian continues actively composing and teaching.
Two world premieres and several recent works will be performed on Saturday, February 4 at 7:30 p.m. in Kilbourn Hall by the Eastman Virtuosi, a group assembled from Eastman’s renowned faculty. It will be a celebration of Adler’s long career and continued compositional pursuits.
The event also features a Q&A with Adler, moderated by Professor of Composition David Liptak, which precedes the concert at 6:45 p.m. in Kilbourn Hall. “He was my teacher in 1973, when I began graduate studies, and has been a keen mentor and valued friend ever since,” says Liptak. “His career as a composer and teacher is legendary as he continues to compose robust new music into his ninth decade, including those works featured on his 95th birthday celebration concert.”
Bonita Boyd, who co-directs Eastman Virtuosi, also has personal connections to Adler. “My own association with Sam Adler goes back to premiering and recording his Flute Concerto many years ago, as well as his solo Flute Sonata. He has been so important in my life, both personally and artistically. Sam has had a long and profoundly important career as one of America’s most important composers and pedagogues. He is so very important to Eastman and has greatly enriched Eastman’s last 50 years as well as so many lives of colleagues and students.”
Born in 1928 to a German-Jewish family, Adler’s family fled the Holocaust and immigrated to the United States in 1938, where Adler built a career composing music for both the concert hall and synagogues. His musical style is unusually diverse, bringing in lyricism, diatonicism, modernist musical language, and Jewish folk influences. He began teaching at Eastman in 1966 until his retirement and has since served on the faculty of several universities including the Juilliard School. He received countless awards throughout his career, including a Charles Ives Award and Guggenheim Fellowship, and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2001.
Among the students he taught is Michael Isaacson ‘79E (PhD), a now-retired freelance media composer who scored music for television and film in Los Angeles and is well-known for composing new works for synagogues. Adler is a trusted mentor and teacher, and not just while he studied at Eastman. He’s turned to Adler for feedback throughout his career and even now into his own retirement.
“Sam Adler, who had already authored hundreds of pieces, a choral conducting method, a renowned orchestration text (now translated into several languages and sold around the world), and scholarly articles, initially got to know you as a person,” Isaacson remembers of Adler’s teaching. “He understood that the best compositions were extensions of who you are and what you were feeling at that time of their creation.”
Despite developing a musical style very different from Adler’s, Isaacson says that Adler “always entered into my world as he analyzed and made suggestions for improvements. … It tickles me now that as a seventy-six-year-old ‘experienced’ composer, I look forward to a regular lesson with my vitally alive ninety-five-year-old teacher who is still enjoying his own busy career and recordings.”
In advance of the concert, Isaacson sent Adler a questionnaire of “influences in threes.” Here’s how Adler responded:
Three composers who most influenced you:
- Copland; 2. Piston; 3. Hindemith.
Three teachers who most influenced you:
- Herbert Fromm; 2. Hindemith; 3. Copland
Three musical works that most influenced you:
- Youth – Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven
- Later – Brahms: the final clarinet sonatas; Stravinsky: Petrushka; Hindemith: Mathis der Mahler
- Choral style came from Bach, Mendelssohn, Hindemith, Benjamin Britten, and Herbert Fromm
Three works of yours that have most influenced others:
- Orchestration; 2. Jewish settings and arrangements; 3. Choral and chamber music
Three of your students whom you have most influenced.
- Michael Isaacson; 2. Kevin Puts; 3. Dalit Warshaw
Three compositional approaches that have most influenced your teaching.
- Counterpoint; 2. Harmony; 3. Ear-training through analysis
Three insights at turning 95.
- I keep to a set schedule of work, reading and relaxation.
- I yearn to know more about science and technical advances, which I never had time for when I was so busy teaching.
- It is very important to hear a lot of music both from earlier times as well from our time and reread some of the classic works which I read many years ago.
See a full tribute written by Isaacson here.
Tickets for Eastman’s Faculty Artist Series are $10 for the general public and free to URID holders. General Admission tickets will be available for purchase at each concert. Visit EastmanTheatre.org for more information.
–Written by Anna Reguero, Senior Writer & Editorial Manager