Mirga puts together all-Carter concert

Mirga puts together all-Carter concert


norman lebrecht

November 30, 2017

A mark of a forward-looking conductor is one who takes up an unfashionable modernist.

For her debut with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will conduct a Sunday-afternoon Elliott Carter concert on January 28 at Birmingham Town Hall, performed in the round.

Not everyone’s cup of tea, perhaps, but a serious signal of intent.


  • Steve P says:

    Now this sounds pretty cool! Talk about adventurous programming: if Mirga succeeds with bringing an audience to this concert, she will indeed be a superstar in my book.
    Guess The Dude will have to go all-Ferneyhough to win the day.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Ferneyhough has a very original manner of composing: he takes an entirely black sheet of paper and creates little white spaces with type-ex, indicating where there are no notes. He is the last romantic.

  • John Borstlap says:

    I try to understand why a forward-looking conductor would take-up an oldfashioned modernist, who only embarked upon postwar modernism because he did not have the success he craved for with his neoclassicism, which is dry and lacking the fantasy of a Stravinsky.

    He created ingenious, colourful textures, cramped with short nervous signals, which he explained as ‘celebrating modern times’ – since it sounds like rush hour in a megacity, that is probably where he located ‘modernity’.

    But for Mrs Mirga’s wild gestures, this may be just the right material with which to demonstrate her own type of modernity. My suspicion is, that there is a feminist motive here, to counter the possible impression that female conductors are ‘too soft’ for truly, male, hard-edge intellectual ‘music’.


    • C Porumbescu says:

      Mr Borstlap, she has nothing to prove in that direction. In Birmingham she has already conducted Idomeneo, Mahler 1, music by Hans Abrahamsen and Jorg Widmann, Beethoven 5, Sibelius Lemminkainen Legends and Brahms 1. Whatever your views on Carter, this is not exactly pink fluff.

    • Mark Henriksen says:

      Is there a single work of Cage that would make a doubter a fan? If so, let me know.

  • Graeme Hall says:

    It would be a rather more remarkable it were with the CBSO, but it’s hardly anything unusual for BCMG surely?

    Did you comment on Martyn Brabbins conducting Matthews, Xenakis, Birtwistle and a Paredes premiere in Huddersfield last week?

    • John Borstlap says:

      Must have been Colin Matthews, I guess. David – his brother – is a tonal composer and a better one for that.

  • Dave says:

    Who taught this woman the art of conducting? Is she having a spasm of some sort?

    • Will Duffay says:

      Do you think her action photo above is much different to the conducting action photos of male conductors? Perhaps you simply don’t approve of women in the work place.

    • David R Osborne says:

      She’s conducting Carter Dave.

    • Bruce says:

      Have you seen pictures of Rattle conducting? He’s a master at what my sister used to call the “ow, I’m having something asymmetrical shoved up my ass” look. (But it makes his Brahms so much more musical…)

      • John Borstlap says:

        Very funny. I always found the Rattle smile very artificial.

        • Max Grimm says:

          He can smile all he wants – artificial smiles or genuine ones – as long as he keeps quiet. I’m not at all a fan of the apelike sounding grunts he is prone to when ‘ihm die Welt abhanden kommt’ while conducting.

  • David R Osborne says:

    Forward looking? Oh I get it, nice one Norman.

  • Ungeheuer says:

    Mirga! It’s Mirga all the time.

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    It’s a very short programme. Less than an hour :

    Pierre-Laurent Aimard Piano / Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla

    Elliott Carter Mosaic, 10′
    Double Trio, 8′
    Epigrams for piano trio, 13′
    Bariolage, ‘
    Two Thoughts about the Piano, 10′
    Two Controversies and a Conversation, 11’

  • Ben says:

    I am still waiting for an #Me-Too moment from any female conductor. 😉

  • Janne Seppänen says:

    Wonderful news! I’m always really happy to see Carter’s music being performed. One of my favourite composers of the late 20th century/early 21st century. His late works are especially inspired!

  • Herr Doktor says:

    The highest, best possible use of Elliott Carter’s music is to get prisoners to confess.

    • Steve P says:

      I dunno – I quite enjoy most everything I’ve heard from Carter. His string quartets are truly unique and wonderful.

      • Herr Doktor says:

        I don’t begrudge anyone else getting enjoyment from anything.

        I’ll just speak for myself.

        After being force-fed a steady stream of Carter by James Levine during his tenure in Boston, I never want to hear another Carter work again the rest of my life.

        • Lynn says:

          Herr Doktor —

          Completely agree.

          As my friend once said:

          “Carter remains one of those incredibly overhyped composers whose inspiration comes (if at all) only in the tiniest spurts. For to produce finely etched music demands a great ear, a large heart, a rich and deep personality, and an unerring sense of drama and pacing. Carter just didn’t have it to give, or he thought he was on to something better, but wasn’t…. His deluded music of the eternal present will sadly have little future.”

          • John Borstlap says:

            A perceptive friend.

            The reason why such composers are so hyped, is because for many people they seem to symbolize ‘modernity’, and since much of what is considered ‘modernity’ refers to fragmented, neurotic and alienating experiences in short time spans, full of contradiction and over-complex confusion, they ‘recognize’ their life experience. Such ‘music’ is a product of negative life experience, rubbing it in: all about surface, pure sound, the exterior world. Traditional repertoire however, which survived the 20C upheavels, offers an alternative to all of that, and hence in a strange way is closely related to modern times, providing a compensation to such experiences: it offers interior experience of the type that has become more difficult in modern times.

            People really enjoying things like Carter’s work, don’t feel there could be anything wrong with the disruptive noise of conventional ‘modernity’, they feel perfectly at home in a Manhattan rush hour. Whether such people are to be envied or pitied, depends upon the depth of understanding of what has been sacrificed to material progress, technological sophistication, the benefits of nuclear war and happy globalization etc. etc.

          • Herr Doktor says:

            This is a true story I’ve told friends many times, and it deserves to be told here. The Boston Symphony Orchestra had a special concert for Elliott Carter’s 100th birthday, which included a new work composed by Carter for piano soloist (Daniel Barenboim) and the orchestra, which was led by James Levine. The day before the concert, I heard a live interview with Barenboim on the radio. At one point, the interviewer said, “It’s a complex piano part with a lot of notes, although I’m sure if you miss a few, no one will probably notice.” Barenboim responded, “Just the opposite. It’s a truly great work that requires absolute precision, because just one wrong note, and the whole thing falls apart.”

            At first I thought Barenboim was joking, but as the interview continued, I realized he wasn’t. And I started laughing. Because this makes perfect sense. Consider the implications:

            Just one wrong note in Beethoven’s Pastorale symphony, and the whole thing falls apart.

            Just one wrong note in Bruckner’s astonishing and visionary 9th symphony, and the whole thing falls apart.

            Just one wrong note in Tchaikovsky’s moving 6th symphony, and the whole thing falls apart.


            It made me realize that Barenboim told us, in the most (unintentionally) intellectually honest way, something about emperors and clothes.

    • Mr. Schwa says:

      That is a hilarious comment!! They were playing some Elliot Carter on the radio, and my mother had it on in her kitchen. Her dog (a greyhound) began to moan and make very strange sounds, and then became sick and had to be rushed to the vet. My mother is convinced that it was Carter’s music that made the dog ill.

  • harold braun says:

    I hope she gets some lessons before that….

  • Tim Schwa says:

    I would sooner slit my wrists than listen to all that crap by Elliot Carter. Sounds like a dreadful concert.

    • John Borstlap says:

      My fly on the wall has whispered that the Minnasota Euthenasia Club is making enthusiastic preparations to fly to the UK to attend the concert, and carry-out the last point of their constitution.

  • William Safford says:

    The naysayers notwithstanding, several of Carter’s works have entered the modern repertoire. The Cello Sonata and the Wind Quintet come immediately to mind.

    • Tim Schwa says:

      Carter’s music is Post-modern garbage. If it were never played again, nobody would notice or miss it. Levine’s fascination with it was a bizarre obsession. No wonder Boston got sick of him. Thank god Carter stayed away from opera.

      • William Safford says:

        Your comment betrays your dearth of knowledge of Carter’s oeuvre.

        If nothing else, Carter’s early works predate postmodernism.

        His wind quintet, for example, is well-crafted and engaging (at least when performed well) neoclassical music. It was written when he was middle aged, at an age when many other composers were already dead, yet it’s still considered a relatively early work.

        “Early” takes on special significance, considering not only how long Carter lived but that he was productive until the end.

        Labeling all of his music “postmodern garbage” is an erroneous ex post facto criticism.

        • Tim Schwa says:

          Sorry about that!! I do apologize for not having first informed you that I use the more ‘expansive’ definition of post-modern: it refers to 20th-century music that most people don’t derive any pleasure from and don’t want to listen to;i.e., specifically, composers (such as Elliot Carter) who substitute technical brilliance and complexity for beauty or originality. I should indeed have acknowledged that some of Carter’s ‘oeuvre’ pre-dates post-modern, and thus, should more accurately be called pre-post-modern garbage. So, hopefully, this explains my ex post facto point of view. I do recall, as a young student in the 1970s, attending an open rehearsal of one of Carter’s string quartets. This was at the Aspen Music Festival. The excitement was palpable, because the great composer was present!! Oddly enough, Carter dozed off/fell asleep about 15 minutes into the first movement, and woke up about three minutes before it ended. Antiseptic, dry, cliché-ridden, arid, over-intellectualized, repetitive drivel.

  • Gemma Lee says:

    Well it would be something except that this was originally programmed and conducted (and recorded?) by Olliver Knussen. I guess a second hand program is better than nothing.