Elliott Carter Turns 103

Blog: 12.12.11

Monday, December 12, 2011 - 02:12 PM

Elliott Carter might be the hardest working man in classical music today. Having turned 103 over the weekend, he’s certainly the oldest. The composer is celebrating his latest birthday by premiering several new pieces, five of which were performed last week. The festivities continue tonight when Julliard's AXIOM ensemble performs Carter’s new work Three Explorations, based on poet T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall.

Back in 2009 when Carter was a wee lad of 100, Kurt Andersen visited the living legend in his Manhattan apartment. They looked back on Carter's life, and recalled his earliest musical inspiration. Carter told Kurt that he still remembers hearing the Boston Symphony's 1924 performance of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring as a 15-year-old. “That’s what knocked me out, that’s what gave me the idea I wanted to be a composer.”

Carter went on to make music for the next 85 years. After all that time, Carter said the biggest change he had noticed in his creative process was a lack of patience. Although he still spends four to five hours a day composing he feels rushed to finish his work. "Before, I could have patience for a piece for a whole year," he said. "Now it's more like a week."

Still, Carter shows little sign of slowing down. On the eve of yet another birthday premiere, one wonders what the composer has in store for next year when he’s due to turn 104. In Carter's own words: "It's always an adventure. I’m constantly trying to do new things I haven't done."

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