From the Shelf to St. Petersburg

Arthur Gottschalk’s unexpected journey to becoming an award-winning composer has now brought him to Russia for a major recording project.

Arthur Gottschalk’s latest composition, Requiem: For the Living, written for orchestra, choir, and vocal soloists, almost never saw the light of day. Written in 2001, after the events of September 11, Requiem was crafted from Latin texts as well as the thoughts and teachings of some of the world’s major religious thinkers, and was influenced by the artistry of those whom Gottschalk admired, such as Duke Ellington.

“I was looking at a lot of text. It’s a big piece, eight movements, and I decided, beyond that, I wanted it to be a celebration of style and culture,” said Gottschalk. “It’s a very avant-garde piece, but it easily jumps back and forth from pop, rock, big bands, swing, and gospel; it just never sits still.”

Gottschalk (BM ’74, MM, ’75, DMA ’78, composition) said the Requiem is the only piece of music he has not written on commission since 1985, and in a lot of ways, it was just for him. “I didn’t want to give it to anyone, I wrote it for me and I put it on the shelf and forgot about it.”

Some years later, on a flight back from Italy with virtuoso violinist Kenneth Goldsmith of the Mirecourt Trio, who had just performed Gottschalk’s Violin Concerto, Requiem was suddenly resurrected. “Kenneth asked me what my favorite piece was, and it was something I hadn’t thought about before,” said Gottschalk. “I said, ‘You know, I have this piece I wrote, that I think is my favorite piece, but nobody knows it and I don’t show it to anyone.'”

Goldsmith asked if he could see it, and Gottschalk obliged. Not only did Goldsmith share the piece with his contemporaries, he also urged Gottschalk to do the same. “With Kenneth’s encouragement I showed it to the composer-in-residence of the Seattle Symphony, Samuel Jones,” said Gottschalk. “I know for a fact that he, in turn, showed it to some members of the American Symphony Orchestra League.”

Fast-forward to 2010, and Requiem was garnering some real interest. “It’s so easy to share music now, via PDFs, and my piece came to the attention of a conductor in Russia, who happens to be friends with a very good friend of mine, Bob Lord [CEO of PARMA Records],” said Gottschalk. “Bob called me and we started talking and it was decided we would record Requiem with the St. Petersburg State Symphony [SPSS] and St. Petersburg Voices.”

Last July, Gottschalk spent 12 days in St. Petersburg recording his Requiem. “After the summer recording sessions, I gave myself a little vacation, but have started to work on the editing since I’ve been home,” he said. “We just completed the second round of editing in October.”

In December, the SPSS Choir will begin their recording sessions for the work, with Vladimir Lande conducting. At the same time, recordings of the vocal soloists will begin, including Sasha Cooke, Grammy Award-winning soprano with the Metropolitan Opera; Alberto Mizrahi, hazzan of the historic Anse Emet synagogue in Chicago; Timothy Jones, operatic and concert soloist and SMTD alumnus; and Melissa Givens, baroque and 21st century specialist and concert artist. The project is scheduled for release in 2015 on Navona Records, and there is hope that the SPSS will perform the Requiem on their upcoming United States tour.

A high point in a brilliant musical career, Gottschalk’s Russian collaboration was something he never envisioned when he first set foot on the U-M campus. Though a gifted musician in his high school years, he didn’t think he could make a living at it. His father, Arthur W. Gottschalk, Jr. (BSE ’51) was an engineer, and he wanted his son to attend medical school. Gottschalk embarked on the path by enrolling in the three-year pre-med program in LSA’s Honors Program.

Though his focus was on medicine, Gottschalk still had a soft spot in his heart for music. “I’m a trombone player and I wanted to play in the Symphony Band, so I got an audition with Dr. Revelli,” Gottschalk said. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow, he probably hasn’t heard as good a freshman as me in his entire career; he has no idea how good I am.'” After the audition Revelli said, “Well, you know Art, you sound pretty good and if you just keep practicing and studying, one of these days, I’m not guaranteeing it, but one of these days you might even get to play in the Symphony Band, but for now I’m going to assign you to the Concert Band.”

Rather than being crushed, Gottschalk took Revelli’s advice to heart. He studied hard, played in the Concert Band, and joined the Michigan Marching Band. At the same time, he was also taking composition lessons for non-majors.

Just before obtaining his pre-med degree, he decided to transfer to the School of Music (as it was then known) and become a composition major. His work ethic stood him in good stead during this time, as he worked and played in local jazz bands, wedding bands, polka bands, symphonic gigs, and anything else he could land to help pay for his studies.

Gottschalk studied under Leslie Bassett and Ross Lee Finney at SMTD, but attributes the arrival of William Bolcom as a turning point in his studies. “Bill was a breath of fresh air,” he said. “He told us to write who we were and the sum of our experiences, and he gave us permission to write what we felt and to use whatever language was necessary to express how we felt, and to be true to ourselves.”

After obtaining his BM in composition, Gottschalk stuck around to collect his advanced degrees as well. “I was very lucky, because the way I saw it, the caliber of talent at U-M, in terms of faculty, was so huge and impressive, that I hadn’t even begun to pick their brains yet,” he said.

Right before graduating with his DMA, Gottschalk was hired at Rice University in Houston. “I accepted Rice’s offer to teach composition, and more specifically to help build an electronic music and computer lab for their new School of Music,” he said. “Except for a short stint as a composer at Columbia University in New York City, I’ve been at Rice for 38 years.”

Gottschalk has been honored with many awards. His Concerto for Violin and Symphonic Winds won First Prize in the XXV Concorso Internazionale di Composizione Originale (Corciano, Italy); in 2011 he was honored by the mayor of Houston with a proclamation that October 16th be known as “Arthur Gottschalk Day”; and last year Gottschalk was awarded a Gold Medal in composition from the Global Music Awards (GMA) for his cello sonata In Memoriam, and a Silver Medal for his orchestra score Amelia.

Gottschalk is grateful for the multifaceted education he received at U-M and has made it his philanthropic priority to help give back to SMTD. “I invest in my future, your future, our future by putting my money into scholarships,” he said. “I have a strong feeling that it is my duty to try and share as much as I can with Michigan.”

With his wife Shelley, Gottschalk recently pledged to endow their current annual scholarships: the William Bolcom and Joan Morris Scholarship for composition and/or musical theatre students (created upon Bolcom’s retirement, and reflecting both Art’s passion for music and Shelley’s background as a drama student), and the Arthur W. Gottschalk, Jr. Scholarship in Trumpet, in honor of his 86-year-old father.

“My father went to Michigan and was an engineer, but his fondest memory was playing trumpet for Revelli,” he said. “He loves hearing from, receiving letters, and getting to know the recipients, and he enjoys knowing the scholarship is there, and will be there in the future.”