World-renowned composer and educator Samuel Adler will be in the Triad this weekend. He'll be discussing his new book, Building Bridges With Music – a collection of personal stories about his life, work and mentors.

Adler's music embraces a wide variety of contemporary styles, and it's been performed by many of the finest orchestras in the world. His teaching career at music conservatories including Eastman and Juilliard spans six decades, and his textbook, The Study of Orchestration, has influenced generations of composers.

But Adler came from humble beginnings. The son of a cantor, he spent his early childhood growing up in a segregated Jewish neighborhood in Nazi Germany. He began studying violin at age seven, and his enthusiasm for music continued to grow after he and his family emigrated to the United States in 1939.

Samuel Adler recently shared some of his biggest influences with WFDD's David Ford.

Interview Highlights

On his early childhood memories in Mannheim, Germany:

My father was the chief cantor of the central synagogue, so our life revolved around religious celebration, however, we were segregated because Jews could no longer go to restaurants, the movie[s] or any other public place. So, everything was kind of limited as far as my childhood is concerned.

On his early introduction to music:

[Playing violin] occupied a lot of my time because I loved to practice. And the teacher I had…came every day—because he lost his job because he was also Jewish—to practice with me or give me a lesson, because my mother fed him, he was so poor.

On hearing the world premiere performance of Barók's Concerto for Orchestra:

My father took me to the first performance…which was Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony. And on a Friday afternoon we drove to Boston and went to the concert. Of course, I was very excited about it and went to get [an] autograph of Bartók's...and I went backstage, and Bartók was sitting there, all into himself—he was very ill at that time.

Koussevitzky came back from the stage quite energized—there were about 25 reporters there—and   he pointed to Bartók and said, “Boys, there sits the greatest composer in the world.” And Bartók looked up and quietly said, “Last week, you said it was Prokofiev.” Well, last week he did the first performance in Boston of Prokofiev's 5th Symphony and therefore Prokofiev was the greatest composer. Every week he did a new work which was so exciting, and I'm afraid is not the custom today anymore.

On his long association with groundbreaking American composer and teacher Aaron Copland:

He at first refused to have me as a student because he felt I was so tradition-bound, and influenced by [Paul] Hindemith—with whom I was studying before I went to Copland—that he said, ‘Look, you have such a good technique, I'm not interested in that kind of music.' It was very difficult to have a breakthrough with him because he was very critical—which, by the way, I now appreciate more than ever—because he wanted me to change and look into myself more, rather than into having a great technique in counterpoint or harmony.

It took ten years after I studied with him that he gave me a letter of recommendation! Finally he said, “Sam, you're really a composer now. After hearing your first and second symphony, and your first opera, I really think that you're going to make it.”

Samuel Adler's talk, Building Bridges With Music, is open to the public and begins Friday night on the Wake Forest University campus.

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