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Elliott Carter’s last film interview, taken this summer

Decca have just sent us film of the great composer, who died last night aged 103, chatting with great animation to the cellist Alisa Weilerstein, who was about to record his cello concerto.

He talks with the animation of a man half his age. And I think he wore those braces (US: suspenders) pretty much all his life.

Watch, listen and learn.

Here’s another recent clip in which Carter talks about his encounter as a young man with Charles Ives:

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  1. He makes excuses about not being able to hear much, then gives the most acute, perceptive notes. What a wonderful man and musician.

    • 02:55 in the Weilerstein clip is particularly telling ” but don’t be too free, because i’ve tried to write it as if you’re playing it freely. So, two frees and it may freeze!”

  2. So sharp, so acute, so witty. As it is with the man, it is so with the music!

  3. The Cello Concerto, i remember that piece very well, i copied the music, by hand at the time… and was to be played by Fred Cherry, a friend of the family. He liked my copying so much, he came to meet me at my home on the upper West Side, and i was very touched, so touch i forgot to even offer him a glass of water, or something!!!! All my condolences to his family, he was a great man.

  4. Thank you for posting my interview (the second one) here, Norman. The full interviews (in 3 10-min parts) are on the Boosey & Hawkes website, for those that are interested.

    This was one of the most wonderful and inspiring days I’ve spent in my career. I had interviewed Carter before, on an infamous occasion at the Barbican, live on BBC4 during the interval of a concert of his music, when he couldn’t hear me – because he was mostly deaf in his right ear – and I couldn’t hear him – because I had distortion in my earpiece in my left ear! He was brilliant though, as always. When I arrived at his apartment in New York for this interview, he reminded me of the Barbican broadcast immediately! We all felt that this one was going to be rather different, covering his entire career in a more relaxed setting. Carter himself treated it as possibly his last opportunity to tell the stories and look back over an extraordinary life. He was, as ever, funny, warm, generous, incisive, sharp and uncompromising – much like his music, which I have been listening to my whole life. His energy was inspiring and by the end I was left exhausted! He talked for 90 minutes, remembering his friendships with some of the key figures of 20th century culture, his teacher at Harvard, Holst, and so many wonderful anecdotes. He complained that getting old meant he had to keep accepting visitors, which kept him from writing music. And he couldn’t believe that, on such a sweltering day in New York, I wasn’t wearing shorts (he was, very brightly coloured ones). A week after the interview, he sent me a message saying how much he had enjoyed it and that he had told stories that he’d not made public before; I was humbled and touched.

    Like so many, I began to think that Elliott was going to live forever. His music certainly will. It never fails to invigorate, challenge and inspire me.

    I’m off to listen to Symphony of 3 Orchestras.

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