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Classical Notes: February 24, 2007 Archive

More on Elliot Carter and coloring outside the lines

Posted at 1:24 PM on February 24, 2007 by Alison Young

I'm loving the conversation going on here about new music, where and how to best listen to it, and what belongs on the radio. I had an interesting conversation with the Miro Quartet a couple of years back when they were playing a recital of Beethoven, Charles Ives and George Crumb in Houston. In addition to their formal recital, they were involved in outreach concerts with young kids. What surprised them the most, they told me, was the children’s response to the more "difficult" music. It was more immediate and authentic; I think the word they used was "visceral." Surprisingly, with the Beethoven, the children were less interested or focused.

Granted, the performances for the kids were live and it's kind of hard to let your mind wander when the musicians are making some rather unusual and irregular movements; but the children's willingness to just let the sonic experience transport them was what most interested me. So with this in mind, and making a small explanation along the lines of "just let yourself go a little limp," I played one of Elliot Carter’s Diversions for piano solo, performed by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s newest Artistic Partner Pierre-Laurent Aimard. Admittedly, the piece was short and fairly direct, but pretty irregular and without any familiar harmonic or formal structure to hang onto. All the comments I received were positive, some even curious about maybe hearing more "coloring outside the line."

Incidentally, I didn't play the Carter for the shock value, just for my listening pleasure. It's totally cool music if not always "radio friendly!"