It’s hard to believe it was two years ago that I played a couple of Elliott Carter compositions on KZSU to celebrate the composer’s 100th birthday. But it must have been, because he turned 102 last weekend, on Dec. 11.
One hundred two. If anything qualifies one as a badass of classical music, it would be living to age 102, having someone perform a concert of your recent works (those done after age 99), and actually making plans to travel to the concert.
Two years ago, Carter claimed to be composing every day, and it might still be true. Just listen to this podcast interview by Paul Steenhuisen, conducted a month ago. Forgive me for saying so, but when someone’s 102, you don’t expect them to be this lucid, this focused, this energetic in their speech (meaning, the physical act of speaking). Carter’s perceptiveness is clear early in the interview, as he dishes insights into Xenakis and the way a composer gets to know his/her own musical systems.
“I can’t say that I ever really wanted to write very complicated music, but it gradually came out that way,” Carter later tells Steenhuisen (who is, himself, a composer). Carter says his music has gotten simpler later on, a comment I recall reading two years ago. But the stuff is still interesting.
The podcast isn’t 51 straight minutes of Carter, by the way. It’s closer to a magazine entry, centering on a discussion with Carter but peppered with musical excerpts and some interviews with other people.
Hat tip to Chamber Musician Today, which noted Carter’s birthday in this entry by Raymond Bisha, who works for the music label Naxos. He includes a plug for Naxos’ Carter CDs, but that’s forgivable, partly because Naxos’ output is so vast that they pretty much have to have something by Carter in there. Bridge has also put out quite a bit of Carter’s work, including recent pieces, and Cedille recently released Ursula Oppens’ CD of Carter’s piano pieces.
It turns out that Carter didn’t make it to that 102nd-birthday concert in Toronto. This, of course, makes him no less of a badass. Go listen to that podcast; forward to about the 24th minute, where Carter discusses the importance of human nuance in performance. I’d love to be able to dial up that kind of passion when I’m 102.