August 26, 2009
NEC Mourns the Death of Joseph Maneri, Longtime Faculty, Jazz Legend, Founder of Boston Microtonal Society
Received Honorary Doctorate from NEC in May
New England Conservatory is mourning the death of Joseph Gabriel Esther Maneri, a longtime and much beloved faculty member and legendary jazz figure, who died August 24 at age 82. Maneri, who taught at the Conservatory from 1970 to 2007, received an honorary doctorate this past May in recognition of his enormously varied musical accomplishments, his indelible teaching style, and the many gifted performers who carry on his musical legacy. Among his former NEC students are such high profile jazz and classical artists as Richard Danielpour, John Medeski, Marty Ehrlich, Satoko Fujii, Matana Roberts and Cuong Vu.
Although his formal schooling only went through the eighth grade, the New York-raised Maneri received a rigorous classical music education from Josef Schmid, a pupil of Alban Berg, who taught courses in Arnold Schoenberg's harmony, counterpoint and composition. Maneri himself went on to teach harmony, 16th Century counterpoint and composition at the Brooklyn Conservatory while continuing to compose. In 1963, he was commissioned by Erich Leinsdorf of the Boston Symphony Orchestra to write a piano concerto. The resulting Metanoia did not get a BSO performance, but was premiered in 1985 by the American Composers Orchestra and pianist Rebecca la Brecque at Alice Tully Hall.
The Compleat Third Stream Musician
At NEC, Maneri was the epitome of the Third Stream musician as envisioned by then NEC President Gunther Schuller in the newly created department of that name. Maneri bridged the classical and improvisation worlds by teaching harmony, counterpoint, composition, saxophone, improvisation and later microtonal theory and composition as well as jazz. He also gave studio lessons. "He took on the challenge of bringing everything he had learned about music to the classroom," said Hankus Netsky, Chair of Contemporary Improvisation (formerly the Third Stream department). "His innovations at NEC included Performance Techniques, a class where students might be asked to perform movements of symphonies or scenes from operas on whatever instruments happened to be present. His Microtonal Music seminar challenged students to think entirely outside any box their training might have put them in."
However much they learned about music in his classes, Maneri's students absorbed as well his open-hearted warmth and generosity. Ben Schwendener, now an NEC jazz faculty member, recalls "going to Joe's when I was having a hard time in my youth. We would spend long weekend days together, eating spaghetti, talking, and playing. And it was all about heart, love and openness."
The Microtonal Composer, Theorist
Fascinated with the possibilities of microtonal music from an early age, Maneri was co-inventor of a microtonal keyboard that had 588 notes with 72 notes per octave. He also co-authored Preliminary Studies in the Virtual Pitch Continuum with Scott Van Duyne. Using that microtonal textbook, his students learned to hear, sing, play and write in 72-note equal temperament.
Overwhelming interest in his NEC microtonal class led in 1988 to Maneri's founding of the Boston Microtonal Society, a non-profit group promoting the study and performance of microtonal composition. The organization continues to produce concerts in Boston and New York City, is a licensed music publisher, and awards the Jonathan Keith memorial scholarship every year to an NEC student who shows achievement and dedication to microtonal study. Maneri's former composition student, Julia Werntz, who has written both her doctoral thesis and an article in Perspectives of New Music on microtonal composition and Maneri's music, is currently Artistic Director of the Society. She also teaches the microtonal music course at the Conservatory. Of her former teacher and friend, she said: "Joe Maneri broke ground as both a composer and an improvisor with an approach to melody the world had never heard, a strange and powerful microtonal lyricism. He was an intensely demanding teacher, but wildly popular because of his irreverent sense of humor, and because of the important messages he passed on to students about love and authenticity of expression. Many of the students he influenced have gone on to illustrious careers of their own, and several of these are on the NEC faculty today."
Performer par excellence
As a player, Maneri was "perhaps best known as a saxophonist and clarinetist on New York’s jazz and ethnic music scene," according to Netsky. "However, it was never enough for him to play or write music the way others did it. He re-invented every genre he worked in, bringing the challenging disciplines of twelve-tone composition and microtonality to his improvisations, wowing his audiences even as he stretched their ears beyond their wildest dreams."
At NEC, Maneri co-founded NEC’s Enchanted Circle contemporary music concert series in 1977, and co-directed it through 1997. These performances "provided the template for what is now known as New York City’s 'Downtown Scene,' a scene still largely dominated by his former NEC students," Netsky said. "But, impressive as they might be, none of these other performers ever reached the level of virtuosity, control, and pure musical imagination of Joe’s best work."
After a hiatus from performing of several decades, Maneri began playing again in the early 1980s, forming a trio with his son Mat on violins and violas (modified with extra strings and electronics) and drummer Randy Peterson. Encouraged by the enthusiasm his performances generated, he put out an impressive number of recordings from the 1990's until 2003, usually featuring the trio, sometimes augmented by performers such as John Lockwood, Uwe Steinetz, Pandelis Karayorgis, Ben Schwendener, Joe Morris and Ed Schuller.
No less a connoisseur and fellow musician, pianist Ran Blake had this to say about Maneri's playing: "When one hears Maneri on his clarinet, one hears the cries of the Middle East and Brooklyn where Joe lived for many years. His own microtones come not from his theory but from life’s experiences. Some of his notes scream with ghetto resistance."
Maneri is survived by his wife Sonia, five children, and eight grandchildren. There will be a private service for family and a public memorial service to be announced at a later date. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions in his name may be sent to the Boston Microtonal Society, 55 Beacon St., North Adams, MA 02147.
ABOUT NEW ENGLAND CONSERVATORY
Recognized nationally and internationally as a leader among music schools, New England Conservatory offers rigorous training in an intimate, nurturing community to 720 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral music students from around the world. Its faculty of 225 boasts internationally esteemed artist-teachers and scholars. Its alumni go on to fill orchestra chairs, concert hall stages, jazz clubs, recording studios, and arts management positions worldwide. Nearly half of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is composed of NEC trained musicians and faculty.
The oldest independent school of music in the United States, NEC was founded in 1867 by Eben Tourjee. Its curriculum is remarkable for its wide range of styles and traditions. On the college level, it features training in classical, jazz, Contemporary Improvisation, world and early music. Through its Preparatory School, School of Continuing Education, and Community Collaboration Programs, it provides training and performance opportunities for children, pre-college students, adults, and seniors. Through its outreach projects, it allows young musicians to engage with non-traditional audiences in schools, hospitals, and nursing homes—thereby bringing pleasure to new listeners and enlarging the universe for classical music and jazz.
NEC presents more than 600 free concerts each year, many of them in Jordan Hall, its world- renowned, 106-year old, beautifully restored concert hall. These programs range from solo recitals to chamber music to orchestral programs to jazz and opera scenes. Every year, NEC’s opera studies department also presents two fully staged opera productions at the Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston.
NEC is co-founder and educational partner of From the Top, a weekly radio program that celebrates outstanding young classical musicians from the entire country. With its broadcast home in Jordan Hall, the show is now carried by National Public Radio and is heard on 250 stations throughout the United States.
Contact: Ellen Pfeifer
Public Relations Manager
New England Conservatory