Author Topic: Letter from Tanglewood (Elliott Carter)  (Read 14873 times)

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karlhenning

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Re: Letter from Tanglewood (Elliott Carter)
« Reply #20 on: July 23, 2008, 07:25:30 AM »
P.S. As a Stevensian I have to ask - which poems have been set in In the Distances of Sleep?!

Possibly related to recent viewing of Bovine Aviation, but I read this at first as In the Distances of Sheep.

Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

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Re: Letter from Tanglewood (Elliott Carter)
« Reply #21 on: July 23, 2008, 07:43:49 AM »
No substitute for familiarity . . . hence, perhaps, the tendency to describe what we are hearing for the first time, in terms of similarity to that with which we are already familiar.

What we know is a foundation and a yardstick - with more listening experience the foundation gets broader and the yardstick undergoes further refinement. Yesterday I heard Carter's Piano Sonata for the first time ever - I could only relate it to jazz and Scriabin.
Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. -- Plato

Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

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Re: Letter from Tanglewood (Elliott Carter)
« Reply #22 on: July 23, 2008, 07:45:04 AM »
Possibly related to recent viewing of Bovine Aviation, but I read this at first as In the Distances of Sheep.

And even that could be Stevensian...
Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. -- Plato

Offline Brewski

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Re: Letter from Tanglewood (Elliott Carter)
« Reply #23 on: July 23, 2008, 07:51:30 AM »
What we know is a foundation and a yardstick - with more listening experience the foundation gets broader and the yardstick undergoes further refinement. Yesterday I heard Carter's Piano Sonata for the first time ever - I could only relate it to jazz and Scriabin.

I meant to say yesterday that I like the jazz and Scriabin reference.  It's vivid and apt, so hey, why not? 

--Bruce
Even Beethoven's 5th was new once. Imagine being in that first audience

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karlhenning

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Re: Letter from Tanglewood (Elliott Carter)
« Reply #24 on: July 23, 2008, 07:53:11 AM »
What kind of jazz?  8)

Offline Bogey

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Re: Letter from Tanglewood (Elliott Carter)
« Reply #25 on: July 23, 2008, 07:55:30 AM »
Joe,
Your reporting should have been picked off the wire by the NY Times as your coverage trumped theirs.
There will never be another era like the Golden Age of Hollywood.  We didn't know how to blow up buildings then so we had no choice but to tell great stories with great characters.-Ben Mankiewicz

Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

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Re: Letter from Tanglewood (Elliott Carter)
« Reply #26 on: July 23, 2008, 08:06:23 AM »
What kind of jazz?  8)

The 'whiter' Gershwin variant, if you really want to know...  8) (That isn't 'jazz' in the strict sense, of course, but I heard that same, very American combination, of jazz and art music in Carter.)

I found the work immediately approachable.
« Last Edit: July 23, 2008, 08:09:18 AM by Jezetha »
Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. -- Plato

karlhenning

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Re: Letter from Tanglewood (Elliott Carter)
« Reply #27 on: July 23, 2008, 08:09:30 AM »
The 'whiter' Gershwin variant, if you really want to know...  8)

I am glad to know, to be sure, apart from the point that jazz is a broad spectrum  :)

Quote from: Johan
I found the work immediately approachable.

Excellent!

Joe Barron

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Re: Letter from Tanglewood (Elliott Carter)
« Reply #28 on: July 24, 2008, 07:02:06 AM »
The poems set in In the Distances of Sleep are Puella Parvula, Metamorphosis, Re-statement of Romance, The Wind Shifts, To The Roaring Wind, and God Is Good. It Is a Beautiful Night.

The percussionist Aziz Bernard Luce removed his shoes during the Triple Duo to soften his footsteps  as he hustled from instrument to instrument.

The audience at Tuesday evening's concert contained a larger than usual number of children about 11 or 12 years old. During the intermission, a knot of them clogged the lefthand aisle next to Carter's seat, holding their programs, hoping for a close-up glimpse and an autograph.

Carter's son, David, is attending the concerts. It turns out he is as big a Marx Brothers fan as I am.


Today is Thursday

Last night, Oliver Knussen conducted the Concerto for Orchestra during an electrical storm. Thunder set the mood during the intermission, but it slacked off by the time the music started, leaving the rumbling to the percussion battery. The lightning continued, however, and for the first half of the piece, we could see the blue flashes through the high, vertical windows that rise behind the stage.

I sat dead center near the back of the hall, because I wanted to the entire orchestra and get a full, even sound. There were some balance problems. I couldn't hear the chimes in the finale, and some of the pizzicati in the higher strings were lost. Some entrances weren't as sharp as they could have been, and at one point especially, a slack entrance in the winds seemed to throw off the momentum. But such flaws don't count for much when you're listening to a spirited performance of one of the greatest orchestral works of the twentieth century. I was buzzed for hours afterward, and I'm still in a good mood this morning. I feel as though ... well, we're all adults here.

The program opened with Ryan Wigglesworth conducting the Three Occasions. It's never been one of my favorite of Carter's works, but I am very alive to all the music this week, and I quite enjoyed it. The trombone solo in the second movement was a standout. Fred Sherry also gave his usual, penetrating account of the Cello Concerto, but the Concerto for Orchestra  wiped out the memory of it, at least for the rest of the evening.

In the afternoon, a pickup group played the great Second Quartet in a little wooden hall known as the chamber shed. It was a shimmering performance. The older this piece gets, the more beauty musicians seem to find in it. I congratulated the violist afterward, and he said his group was lucky because of all of Carter's quartets, they got to play the easy one.

Phil Lesh, the bass player for the Grateful Dead and an avid Carterian, attended last night's performance. (One comes to these festivals in part for the pleasure of dropping names afterward.) We chatted a bit during intermission, and he laughed when I told him my observation that following Carter is like following the Dead. He coined the term Carterhead, and I didn't mention I had been using the word for the past three days. He said the Concerto for Orchestra directly expresses the political and social turmoil of the 1960s, even though, in an interview Lesh conducted with him a few years ago, Carter denied it. Lesh said that for him, the Concerto is 1968.

Joe Barron

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Re: Letter from Tanglewood (Elliott Carter)
« Reply #29 on: July 24, 2008, 07:05:28 AM »
Possibly related to recent viewing of Bovine Aviation, but I read this at first as In the Distances of Sheep.

Ovine, Karl.  ;)

Offline Brewski

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Re: Letter from Tanglewood (Elliott Carter)
« Reply #30 on: July 24, 2008, 07:11:27 AM »
So many cool details in your report, Joe: the electrical storm, the kids wanting Carter's autograph...and the news (to me) that Phil Lesh likes Carter. 

Really fine coverage of these concerts...and making me wish I could have gone.   :'(

--Bruce
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Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

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Re: Letter from Tanglewood (Elliott Carter)
« Reply #31 on: July 24, 2008, 07:19:04 AM »
You are fortunate to be there, Joe, and we are fortunate to read your vivid account every day! Thanks for the details of In the Distances of Sleep, I'll have a look at the poems again.

Btw - Phil Lesh is also a great Brian fan... The Grateful Dead contributed money to several Marco Polo recordings of Brian's symphonies in the 1980s and 90s (the Gothic among them).
Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. -- Plato

Offline (poco) Sforzando

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Re: Letter from Tanglewood (Elliott Carter)
« Reply #32 on: July 24, 2008, 09:47:46 AM »
So many cool details in your report, Joe: the electrical storm, the kids wanting Carter's autograph...and the news (to me) that Phil Lesh likes Carter.

I remember all the people (including moi) hovering around Carter's seat at the Miller Theater c. 5 years back when the Pacifica did all the quartets. Carter was in a very peppery mood during that intermission, grumbling things like "Now you've got the autograph, you can go home" and "I shouldn't be writing my name so much, I should be writing music." I suppose he was a little cross at being pestered by so many people that night. The next afternoon, I spoke to him briefly at the 92nd St. Y before a Charles Rosen Beethoven recital, and he was as genial as could be.

Joe, if you have any chance of seeing Knussen, please ask him to bring the CfO and Double Concerto to NYC. Those two pieces and the Symphony for 3 Orchestras are the major Carter works I've never heard live, and I'd love to hear them at Carnegie.
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Mark G. Simon

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Re: Letter from Tanglewood (Elliott Carter)
« Reply #33 on: July 24, 2008, 10:12:22 AM »
I saw Carter at a Tanglewood concert a few years ago, and I couldn't think of anything to say to him, so I pestered him for an autograph. He acted annoyed and signed on my program book right over a bunch of text so it would be illegible.

I figured "well, how many times do you get to annoy a guy like that?"

Joe Barron

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Re: Letter from Tanglewood (Elliott Carter)
« Reply #34 on: July 25, 2008, 04:26:58 PM »
In my previous post, I stated that Fred Sherry gave a typically penetrating account of the Cello Concerto. What I meant to say is that Fred Sherry gave a typically penetrating account of the Cello Concerto while wearing the ugliest shirt I have ever seen.

Friday, the last

The great Carter festival of 2008 ended on a sour note — literally. The Symphonia, the last piece performed, ends with a solo piccolo playing a high G sharp, pianissimo. At the very last moment, the piccolist (is that the word?), trying to soften her tone, lost the strength in her lips and dropped an octave. It was noticeable, though not fatal, coming after almost an hour of wonderful music, and Mr. Carter received his standing ovation and his cheers nonetheless.
 
I was afraid that after the ferocity of the Concerto the final concert, held last night, would be an anticlimax. It seemed to be going that way until Ollie Knussen took the stage in the second half to conduct the Symphonia. The Partita, while not as intense as the Concerto, still drew me in with its energy. After five days I was glutted with music and almost exhausted emotionally. It was going to take a triple spt of caffeine to revivie me, and the BSO did not provide it. It did provide something just as effective, and healthier as well: fresh air.   

In addition to the Symphonia, the program consisted of the Three Illusion, the Horn Concerto and the Boston Concerto, all of which are expansive and relaxed compared with the Concerto for Orchestra. But relaxation was needed at the end of such a full week.

What struck me more than anything at the last concert was just how beautifully Mr. Carter’s late music is scored. (All of the music on last night’s program date3s from the past two decades. The earliest, the Partita, was completed in June 1993.) Regardless of what one could say about structure or content or harmony — and of course, there is always much to say — it is Mr. Carter’s creative combinations of instruments that persist in the memory. In the Horn Concerto, for example, there’s a beautiful passage in which the soloist plays against a passage of muted brass. And throughout all the pieces, percussion was used for color rather than emphasis.

With all the music and panel discussions, I didn’t have much time for sightseeing, though I stop by Edith Wharton’s estate, known as The Mount, Thursday afternoon and stood in the room in which she wrote Ethan Frome and The House of Mirth. I was the road right after the final performance and drove through the night to Ossining, New York, where I stayed at my sister’s overnight. Radio reception was clear while I was on the Taconic Parkway. I had the dial set to WQXR, which, like most classical stations, becomes more adventurous after midnight. I got to hear Ralph Shapey’s Partita for solo violin, and I was listening to Ned Rorem’s Second Piano Concerto as I pulled up to my sister’s gated community.

It was just after one A.M. when I walked in her front door. I regret I didn’t to stop on the back roads of New York to gaze at the stars for a half hour or so. I have never seen them so bright.

Some randomly selected thoughts gleaned from Mr. Carter’s interview Thursday afternoon with Richard Dyer, former music critic of the Boston Globe:

On Winds, by St. John Perse, excerpts from which are printed on in the score of the Concerto for Orchestra, “I’m not sure I like it anymore, but I like my music better.” 

On the technical aspects of music: “Here we are talking a complex grammar, and we never say anything about it. English isn’t as bad a Greek, but it’s pretty bad.”

On his relatonship with James Levine: “My music helps me make friends, which I don’t do so easily.”

On the new clarity and classicism of his late music: “As I get older, I’m more impatient than I was when I was younger.”

On musical ideas: “Even now, I’m trying to keep my mind off of them.”

On the Adagio Tenebroso: “I thought if many sad things and wrote about it, that’s all.”

“I’m not happy unless I’m scratching those notes on paper.”


On this last point: A collection of photographs, letters and manuscript pages from Mr. Carter’s long life and career was on display this week at the Tanglewood visitors center. The last item in the exhibition was the final page of Interventions, Mr. Carter’s new piano concerto, which is scheduled for premiere in December. What struck me was how firm, precise and small Mr. Carter’s handwriting still is. There isn’t the slightest tremor.
« Last Edit: July 26, 2008, 02:24:04 AM by Joe Barron »

Joe Barron

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Re: Letter from Tanglewood (Elliott Carter)
« Reply #35 on: July 25, 2008, 04:29:08 PM »
Btw - Phil Lesh is also a great Brian fan... The Grateful Dead contributed money to several Marco Polo recordings of Brian's symphonies in the 1980s and 90s (the Gothic among them).

Knussen's recording of Carter's Concerto for Orchestra was funded by the Dead's Rex Foundation.
« Last Edit: July 25, 2008, 05:27:46 PM by Joe Barron »

Joe Barron

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Re: Letter from Tanglewood (Elliott Carter)
« Reply #36 on: July 25, 2008, 05:33:34 PM »
Oh, PS. Until I looked at tiny reproduction of first page of Mad-regales printed in the program, I didn't realize that the background vocalizing in the 8 Haiku is done on the syllables "Hai-ku." Cute.
« Last Edit: July 25, 2008, 05:36:19 PM by Joe Barron »

Offline Guido

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Re: Letter from Tanglewood (Elliott Carter)
« Reply #37 on: July 25, 2008, 06:33:58 PM »
Asbury also led the premiere of Sound Fields, a brief work for string orchestra. The title comes from Helen Frankenthaler's color field paintings. The music is marked mp throughout. There is no vibrato, no crescendi, no climaxes. Dynamics occur solely through the thicking and thinning of the textures --- adding an subtracting instruments. It's a lovely piece. Frank Oteri referred to it as Feldmanesque, but as I'm not familiar with Feldman, it reminded me of The Unanswered Question, but without the questions, and without the answers. I predict it will be the first of Mr. Carter's pieces ever to be used in a commercial  movie. Asbury repeated the performance, gfranting our wish to hear the piece twice.

Your description of this work makes me want to hear it even more sorely than I already did. Was there any mention of a future recording of it? I assume that these concerts were not broadcast on the radio...

Thankyou for these fantastic reviews. It sounds like you had a great time. News of the piano concerto is exciting indeed - it will be fascinating to hear how he approaches his genre 40 years after the first concerto (remembering the Dialogues of course). I wish he'd write a second cello sonata too so that we could have one at the beginning and end of his maturity. Well I can dream!
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Joe Barron

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Re: Letter from Tanglewood (Elliott Carter)
« Reply #38 on: July 26, 2008, 02:38:01 AM »
... it will be fascinating to hear how he approaches his genre 40 years after the first concerto (remembering the Dialogues of course).

There was also Soundings, so Interventions is really Mr. Carter's fourth piano concerto. Jerry Kuderna approached Mr. Carter during the frestival and reminded him that he had played Mr. Carter's Piano Concerto in 2005. Carter snapped back, "Which one?" There is something contrary about the old man. It can sound unpleasant if you don't understand the dialectic behind it. During one of the discussions, Schiff said Carter tends to approach subjects negatively, but only to reach what Schiff called a larger positivity. Carter once told him Verdi's Falstaff was a "terrible piece." When Schiff expressed surpise and wondered what he could possibly say that about one of Verdi's greatest works, Carter replied that at the end of the opera, the characters sing that life is nothing but a joke. How can life life be a joke, Carter wantd to know, when it offers such wonderful music as there is in Falstaff?

Joe Barron

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Re: Letter from Tanglewood (Elliott Carter)
« Reply #39 on: July 26, 2008, 03:00:47 AM »
Allan Kozinn's review in the Times may be seen here. He gets everything right, I think, and it's heartening to realize that a reviewer for a major daily requires recourse to as many empty adjectives --- superb, velvety, fluid (twice!) --- as I do.

I was also pleased to learn the name of the Times's photographer, since I knocked over his camera before the last program. The dolt had left it leaning, on a unipod, against the hand rail at the bottom of a set of stairs. It was a booby trap, and I walked into it. Not even knowing it was there, since I was scanning the crowd for familiar faces, I brushed against it, and it fell to the floor, lens first, with a crash. Fortunately, the lens didn't break, though I wouldn't have felt guilty if it had. It was a deeply embarrassing moment.

I realize this might have been a great week for music and ideas, but it was lousy for phsycial objects. First the bike, then the car, then that damned camera.
« Last Edit: July 26, 2008, 07:56:14 AM by Joe Barron »