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GET CARTER! The Music of Elliot Carter (III): Jane Irwin (soprano), BBC Symphony Orchestra, David Robertson (conductor), Barbican Centre, London, 14.01.2006 (AO)


Stereotyping composers by their racial origins is as delimiting as it would be for anyone else.† Carter spoke French as a child, and Paris was his spiritual home.† It was the vibrant centre of modernism after 1933.†† Throughout this weekend, Carterís European roots have been ubiquitous, with pieces by Stravinsky, Debussy, Bartok and Schoenberg.†† This concert examines Carterís American cultural father, Charles Ives.† For whatever reason, Ives distrusted European modernism. Carterís training with Nadia Boulanger filled him with new ideas, leading him to put down Ives Concord Sonata, causing a break between them.† The unanswerable question hangs: what might Carter have become had he avoided Europe?† He certainly had no problems writing in a full blooded ďAmericanĒ genre as the Holiday Overture shows. Itís more Copland than Coplandís self-consciously Schoenbergian Connotations, written in 1961, by which time Carter had long gone his own way.

Exuberant and extravert as Holiday Overture may be, it actually owes its existence to France.† The ďholidayĒ referred to was the liberation of Paris in 1944.† For Carter and his exiled European friends it was a more deeply felt, personal celebration than any platitude.† For all its overt narrative of a patriotic event, Ivesí Decoration Day, isnít quite as straightforward as it may seem.† Quite specifically it links to Ivesí personal memories of his father, whom he thought had been a Civil War hero.† The wider Ives family was obsessed with material success, while Ivesí father was a misfit, a musician who never made money.† Ives loved his father and picked up on underlying family tensions. Robertson went for subtlety, making the swirling, dream like textures evoke more enigmatic, suppressed feelings.† Even the references to municipal bands arenít quite what they seem, for Ivesí father was a local bandsman. The trumpet playing taps in the distance was uncommonly moving: perhaps thatís why Ives suddenly switched back to a wild parody of† marching band music, as if heís drawing back from something too painful to face.† Itís more disturbing and deeper than meets the eye, and Robertson understood. Ivesí seems to presage much of what Carter would later explore. His Fourth Symphony, for example, brims with multiple directions, polyrhythms and ideas about time and memory.

Carterís Of Rewaking was written in 2002.† Orchestral textures are pared down, reduced to sudden staccato commentaries behind the vocal line.† In the third song, Shadows, the orchestra is minimal, activity concentrated in long drawn vocal arcs.† The words reflect Carterís usual interests, ďÖ.the instant/ trivial as it is/ is all that we have/ unless/ things the imagination feeds uponÖÖstartle us anewĒ, but he seems to be following the poetís idiosyncratic punctuation.† Heís not word painting, but responding to shapes and silences.† I wasnít impressed with Jane Irwinís mannered, un-nuanced singing, but perhaps that was Carterís intention, to treat the voice as a frame on which the silences and hesitations resonate all the more.† Itís very Zen.

Carter specifically thanked the BBC for including Roger Sessionsí Rhapsody for Orchestra in the programme.† This is a large, dramatic work, densely scored, and enlivened by fanfares and vivid crescendos, well suited to Robertsonís energetic style.† Sessions and Carter were together in Rome in the mid 1950ís when Carter started his Variations for Orchestra.† In roughly half an hour, the music goes through numerous phases, nine variations on a theme and a complex Finale.† The music accelerates and slows down in endless variation, rising columns of sound reaching ever higher.† It turns on sudden pivot points, such as after sharp flashes of brass, or an intervention by the harp. It surges forward with such energy that you hardly notice the passing of time in the real world.† After a big crescendo with drums full blast, the music suddenly diminishes like a falling leaf, fluttering downwards.† Significantly though, it doesnít seem to actually reach base level but hangs, as if suspended in mid air.


Anne Ozorio



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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, GŲran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)