Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Get Carter

Elliott Carter, the greatest living US composer, turns 100 on 11 December. He is still writing music, and in the last couple of decades has produced an amazing number of new works, including his first opera, 1999’s What Now? and the 2007 piano concerto Interventions which had its premiere this week and will be performed at Carnegie Hall on Thursday night (New York time) to mark his birthday.

Here is an interview with him recorded in July:

Here is a brief interview from the Boston Globe on 5 December.

Even apart from the music it has been an extraordinary life. He knew Charles Ives and Edgard Varese (which is comparable to knowing Robert Johnson and Charley Patton, or Matisse and Picasso), and sat next to George Gershwin at the US premiere of Berg’s opera Wozzeck. He talks at length about this and his own music in this 1994 interview.

A good place to start with his music might be Enchanted Preludes, a six-minute duo for flute and cello from 1998, written when he was 90:

Or this dress rehearsal for his Cello Concerto of 2001:

There’s also on YouTube, for now, the lovely 1986-87 Oboe Concerto, the thornier 1997 Piano Quintet, and 1994’s Esprit Rude/Esprit Doux II, a brief and beautiful tribute to Pierre Boulez for flute, clarinet and marimba.

Or two newish CDs from Naxos, which at $13 are a painless experiment: this is his First String Quartet (1951) coupled with the Fifth (1995), and this is a collection of chamber pieces from the 1990s, including Enchanted Preludes. If you’re at all curious about contemporary classical music, there couldn’t be a better place to start.

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