Charles Petzold

Elliott Carter's Birthday Bash

December 11, 2008 (closing in on midnight)
New York, N.Y.

It would have been a wonderful concert regardless. It began when James Levine and Daniel Barenboim came out on the Carnegie Hall stage, sat down side-by-side at a piano, and played Schubert's sublimely heartbreaking Fantasy in F Minor for Piano Four Hands, D. 940. They were then joined by the members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 with Levine conducting and Barenboim at the piano. Following intermission, James Levine and the BSO treated us to a rip-roaring head-bouncing brass-smacking performance of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.

It would have been a wonderful concert regardless. But between the intermission and the Stravinsky was the New York premiere of Elliott Carter's sweetly subversive Interventions for piano and orchestra, which Carter composed specifically for James Levine and Daniel Barenboim to play on his 100th birthday. (It was actually premiered a couple days ago in Boston.)

In Interventions, the piano and orchestra (augmented with tons of percussion) seem to want to play two different kinds of compositions entirely, and so they keep intervening in each other's progress. The orchestra led by Levine concentrates mostly on long majestic string lines, while Barenboim plays some of Carter's jazziest piano writing ever, but the orchestra finally gets into the festive spirit for a (uncharacteristically for Carter) loud crashing finale.

After Interventions, Carter was helped on stage, a cake was rolled out, the orchestra played "Happy Birthday," and the crowd went wild.

The choice to close the concert with Stravinsky's Rite of Spring was very deliberate: It was the American premiere of Rite of Spring by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Carnegie Hall in January 1924 that caused the 15-year old Elliott Carter to want to become a composer.

I left Carnegie Hall hoping there was another 15-year old in the audience suitably blown away by what she heard tonight.