London Gets Elliott Carter
Richard Whitehouse - January 11 2006
This weekend the BBC is devoting its annual Barbican weekend to the music of Elliott Carter, America’s senior living composer and the last active representative of a generation that includes such luminaries as Aaron Copland, Roger Sessions, Roy Harris and William Schuman.
Unlike many of his peers, Carter stayed loyal to the Modernist aesthetic he had established by the 1950s, yet he resisted the urge felt by the European avant-garde to reject the achievements of Western music prior to World War Two. What resulted is a musical idiom in which radically new approaches to harmony and rhythm are balanced by a ‘classical’ lucidity of form: a synthesis of tradition and innovation without equal in the music of the post-war era.
Get Carter! provides an extensive overview of his achievement, under the directorship of two musicians whose authority in Carter’s music is unquestioned. Having conducted numerous premieres of the orchestral works (and the recipient of two Gramophone awards for his recordings of Carter’s music), Oliver Knussen’s two concerts include works Stravinsky himself hailed as masterpieces: the Double Concerto of 1961, with pianist Ian Brown and harpsichordist John Constable, and the Piano Concerto of 1965, in which the soloist will be the young British pianist Nicolas Hodges – for whom Carter wrote Dialogues, and which Hodges has performed and now recorded to great acclaim.
The concerts on Saturday and Sunday evenings are conducted by David Robertson, recently appointed principal guest conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. He conducts the expansive Variations for Orchestra of 1955, and A Symphony of Three Orchestras which was Carter’s controversial contribution to the American bicentennial celebrations of 1976. Also included are welcome revivals of concertos for clarinet and oboe (soloists Michael Collins and Nicholas Daniel), and the UK premiere of the recent song-cycle Of Rewaking (with mezzo Jane Irwin) – alongside works by Copland, Ives, Sessions and Bartók that Carter considers germinal to his creative development.
Chamber and instrumental music is also featured – with the Arditti Quartet, longstanding champions of Carter’s work, performing String Quartets Nos 1 and 5 (of which they gave the world premiere in 1995), and Rolf Hind performing Carter’s two most ambitious piano pieces: the Sonata of 1946 and Night Fantasies of 1980.
The Guildhall School Symphony Orchestra provides an insight into the music of Carter’s formative years, with rare performances of his Symphony and the ballet The Minotaur, while a late-evening concert on Friday sees the BBC Singers perform several of the choral works that Carter wrote extensively in the 1930s and 1940s, alongside madrigals that reflect his enthusiasm for the English Renaissance when studying with Nadia Boulanger in mid-1930s Paris.
Get Carter! provides a valuable opportunity for admirers and newcomers alike to savour the music of this seminal figure in modern Western music, with the added incentive that the composer – who turned 97 in December – plans to attend the weekend and also introduce the concerts on Friday and Sunday evening.
Get Carter! begins on January 13. For more information and ticket availability, contact the Barbican box office on 0845 120 7549.