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Re: [ARSCLIST] Elliott Carter

At 12:13 AM 3/27/2007, you wrote:
Anyone know if Elliott Carter is still alive? If he is, he's 98. Just curious. I don't see any death date for him.

He certainly is - watch this space: http://www.carter100.com/

You might be interested in this item, showing that EC is not only still alive, but he's not taking it easy:


The New York Times
July 27, 2006

''Milton, you're a rotten thief!'' Elliott Carter exclaimed, reading from a text held close to his round glasses. Milton Babbitt jolted up in his plush armchair. John Harbison looked on with amusement. James Levine watched attentively from the audience.

The stage of Seiji Ozawa Hall this week presented an extraordinary historical tableau. Mr. Carter, at 97 a towering figure in contemporary music; Mr. Babbitt, at 90 not far behind in age and status; and Mr. Harbison, a major composer of a younger generation (and a mere pup of 67) took on the three dramatic roles of Igor Stravinsky's ''Soldier's Tale'' at Tanglewood.

The two nonagenarians in particular have been enormously influential in shaping classical music currents of the last century, and here they were together, joining in a moment of musical high jinks.

But there was a serious undercurrent. These three composers are among Mr. Levine's favorites, and he programs their works regularly in his campaign to keep contemporary music before the public.

''I'm tickled,'' said Mr. Levine, who, as the Boston Symphony Orchestra's music director, oversees Tanglewood's programs, ''though the subtext is, that's three of my favorite composers of all time.''

''And there they are, all doing this thing together, just for fun,'' he added, ''which is really cute.'' He went on to draw a connection between the performance and the need for audiences to accept their kind of thorny, often harsh music. ''The idea of what we do with music written by living composers is just so, so critical,'' he said.

They rehearsed for the first time on Monday morning and performed late Tuesday afternoon. The momentousness of the occasion was not lost on the seven young fellows of the Tanglewood Music Center performing the score. All were in their early 20's, so they were in diapers when Mr. Carter had already been around for three-quarters of a century.

''You know as it's happening, you will never forget this performance,'' said James Zimmermann, a clarinetist from Hillsborough, N.J. ''These guys are already immortalized for their body of work.'' The bassoonist, Bradley Balliett of Westborough, Mass., called it ''kind of crazy'' to be onstage with them and with Mr. Levine, who provided some detailed musical coaching.

Mr. Levine said the piece was part of last summer's study program. The idea came to him when he realized that the three composers would be present this year. (Mr. Harbison is in charge of the composing department, and the works of Mr. Carter and Mr. Babbitt are featured this summer.)

Mr. Harbison, Mr. Levine and Ellen Highstein, the director of the Tanglewood Music Center, adapted the text, which tells of a soldier who trades his violin with the Devil in exchange for a book that details the future and gives him riches yet leaves him with an empty soul. The soldier fights back but is eventually dragged to hell by the Devil.

Written in 1918, the piece is scored for violin, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, double bass and percussion in a jazzy, sardonic tone. The work comes with a set of stage directions but is rarely done as a full theatrical piece.

The adaptors cut more than half the text and updated the language. The soldier and the Devil were referred to as ''Elliott'' and ''Milton.'' Instead of ''down a hot and dusty road,'' the soldier marched ''between Lenox and Back Bay.''

Mr. Carter was assigned the role of the soldier, creating odd moments in which Mr. Harbison, as the even-toned narrator, called him Boy. The Devil, naturally, went to Mr. Babbitt, a mischievous lover of wordplay and a creator of complex, almost impenetrable works. A practiced politician of the academy, he once wrote an article given the headline ''Who Cares if You Listen?''

''I do feel like the Devil,'' Mr. Babbitt said when the composers, Mr. Levine and this reporter sat down to talk after the Monday rehearsal. Why? ''I'm not accustomed to beginning my day this early,'' Mr. Babbitt said, deadpan. Was there something about his music that was devilish, he was asked. ''I've known a lot of devils, so I've learned their style.''

Mr. Carter, who had been a friend of Stravinsky, offered that he had played the soldier before, in a production with Aaron Copland as the narrator. John Cage played the Devil, skipped most of the rehearsals and shouted into the microphone at the performance. ''He made such a lot of noise!'' Mr. Carter said. ''John called it the 'Story of the Sold-Out.' ''

After the concert, Mr. Carter said, he took Stravinsky to meet Cage, an avant-gardist who dealt heavily in abstractions. Mr. Carter went on: ''Stravinsky said to John Cage: 'You're the only sensible composer I know. You don't write notes!' '' Mr. Carter related. Gales of laughter followed.

There was another precedent for composers performing ''The Soldier's Tale.'' In 1981, Copland, Roger Sessions and Virgil Thomson performed it at the Whitney Museum.

Work on the production began with five rehearsals by the young musicians, led by Tomasz Golka, a conducting fellow and native of Poland. On Monday morning, the actors arrived and settled into their armchairs. Mr. Babbitt wore a light green blazer; Mr. Harbison, khaki slacks and an open-necked shirt; Mr. Carter, orange shorts, suspenders, a polo shirt and a billed cap.

Mr. Harbison occasionally prompted Mr. Carter, who read his lines in a strong, inflected voice, pausing for effect. Mr. Babbitt punched out his lines in a scratchy baritone. He looked the part, with his slightly elongated nose and chin and a long fringe of white hair. They followed along with their own musical scores. (''I bought it for a dollar and 20 cents,'' Mr. Babbitt said.) Mr. Babbitt had trouble reading a last-minute insert of his ''Devil's Song,'' when he vows revenge on the soldier.

''Go ahead,'' he said. ''I'll find you.''

Mr. Levine let the musicians and actors run through the piece. ''It's just as I imagined it,'' he said. On the next go-round, he frequently interrupted, working closely with the musicians to sharpen and tighten Stravinsky's spiky notes. ''Crispy till it makes you crazy,'' he said.

The actors had their own suggestions. Mr. Carter wondered if the trombone should ''pipe down'' at one point. Afterward, the composers stayed onstage. ''Do I act too much?'' Mr. Carter asked Mr. Levine, who answered. ''No, I think it's great.'' The composers chatted for a bit about what they were working on.

Backstage, Mr. Balliett, a composer as well as a bassoonist, approached Mr. Babbitt. He said he had made an arrangement of the composer's ''Semi-Simple Variations'' for piano, for bassoon. ''I'd love to hear it,'' Mr. Babbitt said.

The dress rehearsal Tuesday morning went smoothly except for the ''Devil's Song.'' Mr. Babbitt had trouble saying the lines in rhythm. They were indeed a mouthful, and a mischievous reference to Mr. Babbitt's thorny style.

If you should keep on fiddling as you do,

My dodecaphonic hexachords will bring about your fall,

And you will not be free to modulate or permutate

Or cogitate at all.

Soon, Mr. Levine was sitting in a chair next to Mr. Babbitt, drilling him. ''This is just too good not to get,'' Mr. Levine said.

Mr. Babbitt said, ''O.K., I'll be all right.''

At the performance that afternoon, the hall was filled with young Tanglewood musicians. The old lions walked onstage to cheers. In his box, Mr. Levine occasionally moved his hand in time. Mr. Babbitt handled the ''Devil's Song'' fairly well but came in early with the line ''Give me your fiddle.'' Mr. Carter was thrown off. He looked flummoxed, searching for his line. The audience murmured as the discomforting silence dragged on. He found his place, and yelled out a triumphant response: ''No!'' The audience exploded with laughter.

At the end, the nonagenarians walked off slowly, Mr. Carter using a cane, to ovations. Backstage, they signed autographs, like dodecaphonic rock stars.

Mr. Babbitt said he had first encountered the piece in 1930. ''This,'' he said, ''is the best performance I've ever heard.''

mike at jazzdiscography.com

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