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When we first arrived in Los Angeles, he missed his soundproof London studio, and it was three years before we were able to build a similar workplace for him among the trees on our land, a short walk from the house. After our arrival, he completed the Two Ballades for Piano that he began in London, and almost immediately he received a commission from the violinist Earl Carlyss and his wife, pianist Ann Schein, for a violin and piano Duo, which they premièred at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, and New York in March 1984. That same year, Gerard received an award from the US National Endowment for the Arts, which, along with a number of performances of his music in the US, helped him to feel accepted and part of the concert scene in America.

Quite different, however, was the response from the film industry, which in England had provided an important source of income. It seemed that because he came with a reputation as a 'serious music' composer, the film industry was not interested. Gerard composed scores for only two films after moving to America and both of these were made outside the US. The first, in 1984, was an Italian film called Claretta, about the last days of Mussolini and his mistress Claretta Petacci, starring Claudia Cardinale. The second, a treatment of Dostoyevsky's autobiographical novella, The Gambler, made in 1996, came to him because the British producer did not want 'a typical film composer'. A CD of the music was subsequently issued on the Virgin Classics label.

While Gerard worked on Claretta, we spent five months of fraught enjoyment in Rome, staying at a hotel that possessed one of the best restaurants in town. However, for Gerard this pleasure was tempered by the difficulty of working with a hotheaded, musically ignorant director who shot most of his scenes containing dialogue with Wagner's music playing in the background, in order, as he explained, to create the right atmosphere for the actors. In Italy, it is usual for the original dialogue track to be discarded and then re-recorded in the studio. The music sessions for the film were recorded in Rome with Gerard conducting the Santa Cecilia Orchestra, and an LP of the brooding, emotionally charged score was issued on CBS. Gerard had been an occasional guest conductor with the orchestra in the past, sometimes combining it with an engagement in Naples and the Scarlatti Orchestra. The album of Claretta sold well, and the music continues to have a life of its own.

Gerard Schurmann conducting. Photo © Clive Barda
Gerard Schurmann conducting. Photo © Clive Barda

In 1987, Dennis Burkh, Music Director of the Janácek Philharmonic Orchestra in Czechoslovakia, had the idea of commissioning Gerard to arrange a set of Slovak Folk Songs for his Slovak-born friend, Stephen Roman, whose Company, Denison Mines in Canada, controlled the largest uranium mine in the world. Both Stephen and his wife Betty shared a nostalgic enthusiasm for Slovak folk music and, in order for Gerard -- who speaks no Czech or Slovak -- to become familiar with it, they arranged for us to visit their palatial home just outside Toronto where they had invited a group of around thirty Slovak men and women to give him a demonstration of the Romans' favourite folk songs. These they sang a cappella and without harmony amid constant bickering and arguments about the correct versions of rhythm, words, and often the vocal line itself. All of this was recorded on cassette and given to Gerard who subsequently consulted a few additional Slovak sources in an effort to resolve the discrepancies. It took him almost a year to complete a set of Nine Slovak Folk Songs for Orchestra [listen -- No 4, 'Blow gently ...'], with soprano and tenor soloists. Unfortunately, Stephen Roman died in 1988 and was never able to hear this charming and popular work.

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Copyright © 19 January 2004 Carolyn Nott, Los Angeles, USA


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