November 6, 2012

NEC Mourns the Death of Composer Elliott Carter at 103

Conservatory Musicians Along with Four Boston Institutions Celebrated His 100th Birthday in 2008 with Music from Eight Decades

New England Conservatory joins the music world in mourning the death of two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer Elliott Carter, who died on November 5. He was 103 and passed away peacefully at his home in New York City.

Although he was born and brought up in New York and remained a New Yorker, Carter had ties to Boston that continued throughout his life. As a 15-year old, he was inspired to become a composer after hearing Pierre Monteux conduct Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring with the Boston Symphony. He studied at Harvard University—literature as an undergraduate and music as a Master’s Degree student. He was awarded an honorary doctorate at the Conservatory in 1961 and was feted in 1993 at NEC on the occasion of his 85th birthday. In recent years, his music was championed by conductor James Levine during his tenure as Music Director of the BSO. And, in 2008, Carter returned again (and took part in an NEC panel discussion as shown in photo) when his centennial was celebrated jointly by Harvard, the BSO, NEC, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and the Longy School of Music.

Although considered something of a late bloomer as a composer, Carter more than made up for his earlier deliberateness by continuing to create new works with astonishing fecundity into his last years. Between his 90th and 100th birthday, he produced 40 new works and after age 100, 14 more. Indeed, for his centennial celebration in Boston, there were two world premieres, one by the Boston Symphony Orchestra (Inventions for Piano and Orchestra with Daniel Barenboim as piano soloist) and one by NEC’s Percussion Ensemble (Tintinnabulation for percussion sextet copnducted by Frank Epstein, Chair of Brass and Percussion—in photo right).

The Centennial festival was also highlighted by performances of all five String Quartets in an NEC-initiated collaboration that was the brainchild of NEC cellist Paul Katz. The ensembles were: the Pacifica Quartet (in residence at the Longy School), the Chiara Quartet (then Blodget Artists-in-Residence at Harvard), the Borromeo String Quartet (NEC’s resident quartet), the Ariel Quartet (then in residence in NEC’s Professional String Quartet Training Program), and the Laurel Quartet (one of NEC’s Honors Ensembles). 

What’s more, double bassist Donald Palma reprised the solo work, Figment III, Carter had written for him in early 2008 and for which he was the first and exclusive performer. And, in 2010, the BSO premiered Carter’s Flute Concerto performed by NEC flute faculty and BSO Principal Elizabeth Rowe.

At the time of the festival for which he served as Artistic Coordinator, NEC composer-conductor-flutist John Heiss compared Carter’s “fruitful, and abundantly productive later years to that of other long-lived composers such as Heinrich Schütz, J.S. Bach, Franz Joseph Haydn, Beethoven, Verdi, and Stravinsky.  And he acknowledged how the surface difficulty and complexity of Carter’s music was becoming a more accustomed sound to listeners’ ears.  “I have known Elliott’s music since the 1960s, through playing the Wind Quintet, Etudes and Fantasy, and Sonata for Flute, Oboe, Cello, and Harpsichord,” he said. “When we eventually met in person, the composer of these once ‘austere’ works proved to be as delightful, witty, informed, and encouraging as the pieces themselves were becoming. Our celebration this year therefore presents several of his early, 'tonal' works, whose immediate appeal contains the seeds of his later musical language: contrapuntal richness, rhythmic boldness, and an almost uncanny precision of form.”

Reflecting on Carter’s career and service to music, NEC President Tony Woodcock said: "We at NEC feel deeply honored that we were able to welcome Elliott Carter to Jordan Hall as part of the worldwide celebration of his 100th Birthday. Carter was a monumental figure in the musical world, and most particularly, the American musical world. His huge output and continuing originality even into his final years constituted a great gift to today’s musicians. Our festival provided a marvelous opportunity for our students and artist faculty to delve deeply and with great concentration into this body of work. They were enriched by the experience, will continue to be enriched by these works whenever they return to them, and so will be future generations of musicians.”


Recognized nationally and internationally as a leader among music schools, New England Conservatory in Boston, MA offers rigorous training in an intimate, nurturing community to 720 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral music students from around the world.  Its faculty of 225 boasts internationally esteemed artist-teachers and scholars.  Its alumni go on to fill orchestra chairs, concert hall stages, jazz clubs, recording studios, and arts management positions worldwide.  Nearly half of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is composed of NEC trained musicians and faculty.

The oldest independent school of music in the United States, NEC was founded in 1867 by Eben Tourjee. Its curriculum is remarkable for its wide range of styles and traditions.  On the college level, it features training in classical, jazz, contemporary improvisation, world and early music. Through its Preparatory School, School of Continuing Education, and Community Programs and Partnerships Program, it provides training and performance opportunities for children, pre-college students, adults, and seniors.  Through its outreach projects, it allows young musicians to engage with non-traditional audiences in schools, hospitals, and nursing homes—thereby bringing pleasure to new listeners and enlarging the universe for classical music, jazz, and contemporary improvisation.

NEC presents more than 900 free concerts each year, many of them in Jordan Hall, its world- renowned, century-old, beautifully restored concert hall.  These programs range from solo recitals to chamber music to orchestral programs to jazz, contemporary improvisation, and opera scenes.  Every year, NEC’s opera studies department also presents two fully staged opera productions at the Cutler Majestic Theatre or Paramount Theatre in Boston.

NEC is co-founder and educational partner of From the Top, a weekly radio program that celebrates outstanding young classical musicians from the entire country. With its broadcast home in Jordan Hall, the show is now carried by National Public Radio and is heard on 250 stations throughout the United States.

Contact: Ellen Pfeifer
Senior Communications Specialist
New England Conservatory
290 Huntington Ave.
Boston, MA 02115