Audience with a composing great

Elliott Carter in Conversation, Britten Studio, Aldeburgh Festival, Snape, June 20What is it like to be in the company of a hundred year old composer, renowned the world over? Who seems as young as you are and wears red socks? Elliott Carter, one hundred years young delighted a packed and rapt Britten Studio on Saturday morning with a delicious blend of anecdote, wit and serious musical points.

Elliott Carter in Conversation, Britten Studio, Aldeburgh Festival, Snape, June 20

What is it like to be in the company of a hundred year old composer, renowned the world over? Who seems as young as you are and wears red socks? Elliott Carter, one hundred years young delighted a packed and rapt Britten Studio on Saturday morning with a delicious blend of anecdote, wit and serious musical points.

The unobtrusive but keen intelligence of Pierre-Laurent Aimard was instrumental in keeping the discussion moving at satisfying, but not over-technical levels.

It is often the jokes and asides that stick in the memory and not just for the obvious and superficial reasons; sometimes they really do say something. When Carter was asked if he thought his music was for an elite he referred to a coal miner who told him that he loved listening to Carter's music - 'it's just like digging coal'.


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There's a profundity in there somewhere. And no doubt Carter spoke for all composers when he responded to a welcome 'to this Festival where your music is being performed ....' with a breezy ' Oh, you can't keep a composer away from his own music!'

Aimard let Carter through his early experiences and enthusiasms, Rite of Spring, Edgard Varese and study with Nadia Boulanger (what a list she had).

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The influence of the brilliant, crazy and very politically incorrect Ezra Pound was clearly significant. The late 40's was a time of major change in Carter's style culminating in the first string quartet and when he also became interested in polyrhythm.

He applauded the recent performance of all his five string quartets in one concert - 'they used to do all the Bartok in one concert', while admitting that it would not be the easiest of evenings.

Attention then turned to his recent piano pieces and some technical discussion of chords and intervals with some demonstrations by the composer himself. Quite a moment.

Aimard then gave a wonderfully informal performance of the related pieces, Matribute, Sistribute and Fratribute, written at the invitation or request of particular personal or professional friends.

These were followed by Two Diversions from 1999 which Carter explained had a parallel to two different actors, one straight, one eccentric on a stage at the same time. A 65th Birthday Greeting for Pierre Boulez (whom he greatly admires) and the sparky 90+ of 1994 concluded this fascinating event. A privilege to be there.

Gareth Jones

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