99 years of Elliott Carter's masterpieces in 5 days
Whether listening to an opera or a concerto, this composer inspires and intrigues.
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The five-day festival concluded with the BSO performing in the Seiji Ozawa Hall, where most of the concerts took place. The piece, "Three Illusions for Orchestra" and the "Horn Concerto," with James Somerville playing French horn, were led by the kinetic BSO assistant conductor, Shi-Yeon Sung.Skip to next paragraph
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The festival also featured an internationally recognized composer/conductor, Oliver Knussen, who took over for the performance of the "Boston Concerto," and Carter's largest orchestral work, "Symphonia: Sum Fluxae Pretium Spei (I am the prize of flowing hope)."
To me these grand pieces have so much going on that they could alone account for Carter's controversial reputation.
But he was disarming in what he wrote when "Boston Concerto" was premièred in 2003: "The marvelous Boston Symphony was very important to me in the '20s and '30s as a Harvard student. At that time I went every Saturday and stood on the steps of Symphony Hall for a rush seat in the balcony. Those years also included singing with the Harvard Glee Club and the BSO in many of the great choral works. I am so grateful for those years and I have, I hope, written a 'thank you' piece – 'Boston Concerto.' "
Perhaps Carter thought of those singing days when the piece, "Mad Regales," the festival's second world première, returned to a cappella vocal music after nearly 70 years. The piece is written for six voices and the music is set to poems by John Ashbery.
Another piece, "Mosaic," written for harp and ensemble, was an American première.
"The score is formed by many short mosaiclike tesserae that I hope make one coordinated impression," Carter wrote.
This composition asks the harp for "slap pizzicato" and other effects that were no problem for the BSO's fine principal harpist, Ann Hobson Pilot.
But slap pizzicato? Sounds like a jazz term. But are there any jazz influences in Carter's music?
David Schiff, author of "The Music of Elliott Carter," said in the program that the "Piano Sonata of 1946" "invoked jazz." And during a panel discussion he smiled and said he thought he heard some influence of jazz pianist Thelonious Monk in the piano part of Carter's "Cello Sonata of 2000."
"I've never heard Carter say anything about it," Mr. Schiff later added in an e-mail, "but when I play through the part (in private!) I like to give the many staccato notes that mark the pulse a kind of Monk edge to them."
Schiff's private performance was not on the program, but many other pieces of Carter's music fulfilled Levine's instructions – if anything interests you, listen again.