Happy 100th Birthday to Elliott Carter

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Nonesuch Records wishes Elliott Carter a very happy 100th birthday today. Birthday concerts are being held across the globe tonight, in New York, London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Helsinki, Vienna, Montreal, and Washington, DC. Among the highlights are the Ensemble Intercontemporain's concert at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre, featuring Pierre-Laurent Aimard, with Pierre Boulez conducting. In New York, the celebration is at Carnegie Hall, with pianist Daniel Barenboim and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, led by James Levine, in a program the Boston Globe called, after its recent Boston premiere, "easily the best Boston Symphony Orchestra concert of the season." An editorial in The Guardian concludes: "As we salute Carter this week, we are hailing a composer who has always been his own man, and whose music is some of the most remarkable and enduring of our time."

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Nonesuch Records wishes Elliott Carter a very happy 100th birthday today. Shortly into the composer's centennial year, this February, Nonesuch will release a four-CD retrospective of the composer's Nonesuch recordings performed by such acclaimed musicians as Paul Jacobs, Gilbert Kalish, the Composers Quartet, Jan DeGaetani, Fred Sherry, Arthur Weisberg, the Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra led by James Levine.

As part of a yearlong celebration, the composer's works have been performed in concert halls across the globe by some of the world's finest performers, with tonight being no exception and birthday concerts being held in New York, London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Helsinki, Vienna, Montreal, and Washington, DC.

Among tonight's concert highlights are the Ensemble Intercontemporain's concert at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre, featuring clarinetist Alain Damiens and pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, with Pierre Boulez conducting. On the program are Carter's Caténaires, Dialogues, Intermittences, Clarinet Concerto, and the UK premiere of the 2007 piece Matribute.

In New York, where Carter was born 100 years ago today, the celebration will take place at Carnegie Hall, with pianist Daniel Barenboim and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, led by James Levine, pairs the New York premiere of Carter's Interventions  with works by Schubert, Beethoven, and Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.

The BSO program was first unveiled in Boston's Symphony Hall last Saturday in what the Boston Globe's Jeremy Eichler calls "easily the best Boston Symphony Orchestra concert of the season, and it was the grand exception to the centenary rule. The composer Elliott Carter, just days shy of his 100th birthday, stood beaming on the stage as the crowd cheered."

Though they were applauding the program, says Eichler, "they were, on a more basic level, applauding the man himself, who has persisted decade after decade in writing music as freshly imaginative as it is fiercely modern, often with an energy and wit unmatched by composers half his age."

The New England Conservatory has been holding Carter centenary events for the past month, including what Eichler, in another Globe review, calls "a lively program" last week in Jordan Hall featured pieces found in the Nonesuch retrospective like Elegy, "a work that brims with an unabashed almost Barber-like Romanticism," and "the landmark Cello Sonata (1948), a work that itself seems to weld together qualities from the expanse of the composer's career."

In Washington, DC, the Library of Congress is also hosting a series of birthday events, including last night's film presentation at the Mary Pickford Theater of A Labyrinth of Time, a documentary by Frank Scheffer exploring the composer's musical development; tonight's concert of Carter works by the Verge Ensemble; and tomorrow's concert by Sequitur, featuring Carter's Double Concerto for piano, harpsichord and two chamber orchestras. That piece is featured on the Nonesuch retrospective collection performed by the Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, with Gilbert Kalish on piano.

San Francisco had its Carter birthday celebration last weekend at the Yerba Buena Center with a screening of Scheffer's documentary, lectures, and concerts that left San Francisco Chronicle music critic Joshua Kosman to suggest, "If you can judge a prophet by his followers, maybe you can judge a composer by the quality of musicians who are inspired to champion his music. And if that's so, then Elliott Carter ... is doing something right."

---

As the world's concert halls are filled with Carter's music, so too will its radio stations. New York City's public radio station, WNYC, 93.9 FM, is broadcasting a number of related programs. At 7 PM ET, host Terrance McKnight examines Carter's early years and influences, like Barber, Nancarrow, and Ives. At 8 PM, the programming continues with Nadia Sirota leading a tribute to the composer, focusing on pieces like the string quartets, which also appear on the Nonesuch four-CD box set. You can also listen now to the broadcast premiere of "Elegy," performed by cellist Fred Sherry pianist Carol Archer, online at wnyc.org.

---

In the Wall Street Journal, composer/pianist/author Stuart Isacoff spoke with the composer to discuss his work in all its complexity. Isacoff begins the piece by stating: "Ask a typical American to nominate this country's greatest living composer, and you'll likely get a blank stare. Most classical musicians, however, would not hesitate for a moment before choosing Elliott Carter for the honor."

Isacoff describes the composer's works this way:

Simply put, his works are steeped in complexity. In some of his most renowned compositions—like the 1961 Double Concerto for Harpsichord and Piano With Two Chamber Orchestras, which Igor Stravinsky declared the first true American masterpiece—the swirl of sounds is so dense and furious that the music might best be likened to an orchestral traffic jam.

Carter prefers to think of it in terms of other complex works of art, like Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, which, he tells Isacoff, "is hard for anybody, I think. But if you make an effort you can find places in it that are quite wonderful."

Read the article at online.wsj.com.

---

The Financial Times's chief classical music critic, Andrew Clark, offers another take on this complex composition style, explaining that Carter's significance stems, in part, from his ability to create something new from a multitude of already complex influences:

[H]is oeuvre synthesises some of the most potent musical forces of the past 100 years—on one hand the classical rigour taught to him in Paris by Nadia Boulanger in the early 1930s, on the other the musical modernism pioneered by American mavericks such as Varèse and Ives, both of whom Carter knew, and by Europe’s postwar avant-garde, whose rebellious freedoms he took to heart but whose dogma he did not follow. There was a third influence—the rhythmic language of Stravinsky and American jazz, each of which plays regular patterns against irregular.

Again, Carter offers his own explanation:

"My music is a picture of society as I hope it will be—a lot of individuals dealing with each other, sensitive to each other and co-operating, and yet not losing their individuality."

Read the article at ft.com.

---

The Guardian's Nicholas Wroe spoke with Carter as well, describes the composer's career tragectory this way:

Carter, a comparatively late starter, first built a reputation as a composer in the 1940s with work that seemed to capture a certain American expansiveness and confidence. Then, in the 50s, he reinvented himself as a harder-edged and more innovative composer in a series of monumental pieces that established him as a leading figure in the postwar avant-garde music scene. His recent output has represented a remarkable late burst of prolific creativity.

Read the interview at guardian.co.uk.

Finally, The Guardian also offers an editorial in praise of the composer, calling his centenary a time for "marvelling celebration." The editorial explains why:

[T]hrough all of his career, Carter has remained a wonderfully urbane and perceptive observer of the 20th century's pageant of contemporary music, so many of whose protagonists he has known personally, from Ives, Bartok, Stravinsky and Varèse through Boulez, Berio and Nono to the younger generation of composers, especially in Europe, who have admired and championed his music so ardently. As we salute Carter this week, we are hailing a composer who has always been his own man, and whose music is some of the most remarkable and enduring of our time.
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Elliott Carter by Jeff Herman
  • Thursday, December 11, 2008
    Happy 100th Birthday to Elliott Carter
    Jeff Herman

    Nonesuch Records wishes Elliott Carter a very happy 100th birthday today. Shortly into the composer's centennial year, this February, Nonesuch will release a four-CD retrospective of the composer's Nonesuch recordings performed by such acclaimed musicians as Paul Jacobs, Gilbert Kalish, the Composers Quartet, Jan DeGaetani, Fred Sherry, Arthur Weisberg, the Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra led by James Levine.

    As part of a yearlong celebration, the composer's works have been performed in concert halls across the globe by some of the world's finest performers, with tonight being no exception and birthday concerts being held in New York, London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Helsinki, Vienna, Montreal, and Washington, DC.

    Among tonight's concert highlights are the Ensemble Intercontemporain's concert at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre, featuring clarinetist Alain Damiens and pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, with Pierre Boulez conducting. On the program are Carter's Caténaires, Dialogues, Intermittences, Clarinet Concerto, and the UK premiere of the 2007 piece Matribute.

    In New York, where Carter was born 100 years ago today, the celebration will take place at Carnegie Hall, with pianist Daniel Barenboim and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, led by James Levine, pairs the New York premiere of Carter's Interventions  with works by Schubert, Beethoven, and Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.

    The BSO program was first unveiled in Boston's Symphony Hall last Saturday in what the Boston Globe's Jeremy Eichler calls "easily the best Boston Symphony Orchestra concert of the season, and it was the grand exception to the centenary rule. The composer Elliott Carter, just days shy of his 100th birthday, stood beaming on the stage as the crowd cheered."

    Though they were applauding the program, says Eichler, "they were, on a more basic level, applauding the man himself, who has persisted decade after decade in writing music as freshly imaginative as it is fiercely modern, often with an energy and wit unmatched by composers half his age."

    The New England Conservatory has been holding Carter centenary events for the past month, including what Eichler, in another Globe review, calls "a lively program" last week in Jordan Hall featured pieces found in the Nonesuch retrospective like Elegy, "a work that brims with an unabashed almost Barber-like Romanticism," and "the landmark Cello Sonata (1948), a work that itself seems to weld together qualities from the expanse of the composer's career."

    In Washington, DC, the Library of Congress is also hosting a series of birthday events, including last night's film presentation at the Mary Pickford Theater of A Labyrinth of Time, a documentary by Frank Scheffer exploring the composer's musical development; tonight's concert of Carter works by the Verge Ensemble; and tomorrow's concert by Sequitur, featuring Carter's Double Concerto for piano, harpsichord and two chamber orchestras. That piece is featured on the Nonesuch retrospective collection performed by the Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, with Gilbert Kalish on piano.

    San Francisco had its Carter birthday celebration last weekend at the Yerba Buena Center with a screening of Scheffer's documentary, lectures, and concerts that left San Francisco Chronicle music critic Joshua Kosman to suggest, "If you can judge a prophet by his followers, maybe you can judge a composer by the quality of musicians who are inspired to champion his music. And if that's so, then Elliott Carter ... is doing something right."

    ---

    As the world's concert halls are filled with Carter's music, so too will its radio stations. New York City's public radio station, WNYC, 93.9 FM, is broadcasting a number of related programs. At 7 PM ET, host Terrance McKnight examines Carter's early years and influences, like Barber, Nancarrow, and Ives. At 8 PM, the programming continues with Nadia Sirota leading a tribute to the composer, focusing on pieces like the string quartets, which also appear on the Nonesuch four-CD box set. You can also listen now to the broadcast premiere of "Elegy," performed by cellist Fred Sherry pianist Carol Archer, online at wnyc.org.

    ---

    In the Wall Street Journal, composer/pianist/author Stuart Isacoff spoke with the composer to discuss his work in all its complexity. Isacoff begins the piece by stating: "Ask a typical American to nominate this country's greatest living composer, and you'll likely get a blank stare. Most classical musicians, however, would not hesitate for a moment before choosing Elliott Carter for the honor."

    Isacoff describes the composer's works this way:

    Simply put, his works are steeped in complexity. In some of his most renowned compositions—like the 1961 Double Concerto for Harpsichord and Piano With Two Chamber Orchestras, which Igor Stravinsky declared the first true American masterpiece—the swirl of sounds is so dense and furious that the music might best be likened to an orchestral traffic jam.

    Carter prefers to think of it in terms of other complex works of art, like Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, which, he tells Isacoff, "is hard for anybody, I think. But if you make an effort you can find places in it that are quite wonderful."

    Read the article at online.wsj.com.

    ---

    The Financial Times's chief classical music critic, Andrew Clark, offers another take on this complex composition style, explaining that Carter's significance stems, in part, from his ability to create something new from a multitude of already complex influences:

    [H]is oeuvre synthesises some of the most potent musical forces of the past 100 years—on one hand the classical rigour taught to him in Paris by Nadia Boulanger in the early 1930s, on the other the musical modernism pioneered by American mavericks such as Varèse and Ives, both of whom Carter knew, and by Europe’s postwar avant-garde, whose rebellious freedoms he took to heart but whose dogma he did not follow. There was a third influence—the rhythmic language of Stravinsky and American jazz, each of which plays regular patterns against irregular.

    Again, Carter offers his own explanation:

    "My music is a picture of society as I hope it will be—a lot of individuals dealing with each other, sensitive to each other and co-operating, and yet not losing their individuality."

    Read the article at ft.com.

    ---

    The Guardian's Nicholas Wroe spoke with Carter as well, describes the composer's career tragectory this way:

    Carter, a comparatively late starter, first built a reputation as a composer in the 1940s with work that seemed to capture a certain American expansiveness and confidence. Then, in the 50s, he reinvented himself as a harder-edged and more innovative composer in a series of monumental pieces that established him as a leading figure in the postwar avant-garde music scene. His recent output has represented a remarkable late burst of prolific creativity.

    Read the interview at guardian.co.uk.

    Finally, The Guardian also offers an editorial in praise of the composer, calling his centenary a time for "marvelling celebration." The editorial explains why:

    [T]hrough all of his career, Carter has remained a wonderfully urbane and perceptive observer of the 20th century's pageant of contemporary music, so many of whose protagonists he has known personally, from Ives, Bartok, Stravinsky and Varèse through Boulez, Berio and Nono to the younger generation of composers, especially in Europe, who have admired and championed his music so ardently. As we salute Carter this week, we are hailing a composer who has always been his own man, and whose music is some of the most remarkable and enduring of our time.
    Journal Articles:Artist News

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