I missed American composer Milton Babbitt’s 94th birthday this Monday. One of the least performed (in this country anyway) and most misunderstood composers of this century and the last, Babbitt is also one of the most historically influential musicians around. And he’s one of the funniest, fastest-talking, most honest and engaging musical personalities anywhere.
IN its modest, underground way a concert that the young musicians of the Ensemble ACJW gave on a brisk night in December at Le Poisson Rouge, the Greenwich Village club for all kinds of contemporary music, was one of the most liberating programs I have heard in years.
The excellent players, participants of the Academy (the select training institute for post-graduate musicians run jointly by the Juilliard School, Carnegie Hall and the Weill Music Institute), impishly titled the program “ACJW Gets Extreme: The Mix Tape.” The idea was to present substantive contemporary music with the trappings of a rock band’s release party.
Though the performances were brilliant, it was the irreverent mixing of works that excited me. The players leapt from the experimental modernist Stockhausen’s “Zodiac” to an elusive, rock-infused new chamber work, “Bow to String,” by Daniel Bjarnason, a trendy young Icelandic composer; from “Semi-Simple Variations,” a spiky 12-tone piano piece by Milton Babbitt, to “Synchronisms No. 9” for violin and electronics by Mario Davidovsky. And so on. Categories be damned.