New Yorker Elliott Carter's 102nd birthday a perfect excuse to venture into his complex musical world
New Music Concerts was not able to get Elliott Carter to Toronto for tonight's celebration of his 102nd birthday at the Isabel Bader Theatre (the actual birthday is tomorrow). But his music will be there -- six pieces Carter has written since turning 99. All are Canadian premieres; one is a world premiere.
It's not just by virtue of longevity that Carter has become known as a connoisseur's composer. Long ago, when the art music world was in the thrall of atonal composition, Carter (like his French counterpart, Olivier Messiaen) developed his very own musical grammar. I'm oversimplifying, but his music starts with a layering of diverse rhythms. For his sound palette, Carter assembled a catalogue of (unusual) chords, not a set of tone rows, as his serialist peers would usw.
The results are no easier to grasp at first hearing. Like a lot of expressionist visual art, Carter's music rewards multiple visits and analytical listening. Carter is not about music as divertissement.
The Isabel Bader Theatre is normally a horrible place to hear classical music because of its dry-as-dust acoustics. But it may be good for Carter's pieces, because each musical line can be heard with absolute clarity (not normally a beneficial thing in art music).
For all the details about tonight's concert, click here.
Here is a link to a 50-minute interview composer Paul Steenhuisen prepared with Carter a few weeks ago.
To give you a taste of larger-scale recent work by Carter, here is Interventions for Piano, which was premiered by the Boston Symphony and music director James Levine, with Daniel Barenboim as soloist, ahead of Carter's 100th birthday: