- Milton Babbitt (b. 1916)
- Boston Modern Orchestra Project
- Gil Rose, conductor
BOSTON — Cast your eye over the orchestral landscape, and the big picture could be seen as one of institutional malaise: deficits, labor strife, cowardly programming. All of which makes it imperative to celebrate those ensembles that, through luck, skill and diligence, pull off what the symphonic behemoths too rarely achieve: diverse repertoire and financial equilibrium.
Although most readily associated with the mid-20th century ascendancy of serial composition in America, Milton Babbitt’s work remains exemplary of a kind of music that even into the 21st century remains challenging and ultimately rewarding to listen to.
I met Babbitt once. We shook hands as I received an award, one student among many others on a winter afternoon a long time ago. Babbitt was a great raconteur. However, the anecdotes I heard are not suitable for print. He wrote dense articles, and yet his music can have straightforward elegance (Composition for Twelve Instruments) or humor (All Set). Truly, All Set is a snazzy 12-tone piece for jazz ensemble. Were it scored for a Pierrot ensemble it might seem bone dry, and if a jazz combo were provided atonal charts, this wouldn’t be the result.
Boston Modern Orchestra Project
Milton Babbitt (1916-2011) is the composer that many love to hate. He of course has his committed defenders, but they are a distinct minority. My opening statement is of course harsh, and indeed anyone who actually met the man was impressed by his great geniality, erudition, and wacky humor. He was the classic eccentric professor, and in many ways a true genius. Babbitt did have a vision of music that was both rooted in the circumstances of his era and deeply personal.
Snappy new recordings of the music of Milton Babbitt and George Antheil from the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, while cellist Christ Wild’s disc offers a fascinating journey through some richly diverse musical soundscapes.
One of the challenges for the reception of music by Milton Babbitt (1916-2011) has been the difficulty the composer encountered in finding performers up to the task of recording his ensemble works with clarity and precision. While one is grateful for those brave souls who first tackled his compositions and recorded them for posterity, All Set, Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s latest recording of his works, fills in some gaps and provides clear sound and well-executed renderings of several of his pieces.