At age 92, Elliott Carter is our last living link to the elegant, schematic, often laconic modernism that he helped advance between the 1950s and 80s. That style was embraced, then turned turgid, by academics, and now it’s more or less a dead form–except when it’s resuscitated by a meticulous practitioner like Carter. In the last decade, even he’s had a mixed track record: his first opera, What Next?, composed a couple years ago, was long on angst-inducing declamations but short on drama. But two of his chamber works from the period, the 1991 Quintet for Piano and Winds and the 1997 Quintet for Piano and String Quartet, have entered the 20th-century repertoire with much support from musicians undaunted by their rhythmic difficulties. Each has one movement, during which a variety of moods are evoked and contrasted. Both are, in essence, mind games whose elaborate design, when unfolded by the right personnel (the Arditti Quartet and pianist Ursula Oppens played the latter quintet in its premiere), can elicit intellectual pleasure. Both pieces are on the program for the first recital in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra-sponsored “Music Now” chamber series. An indication of performers’ respect for Carter’s music is the roster of CSO players on board for this concert: almost all of them are first chairs. In the quintet for piano and winds, the lineup is oboist Alex Klein, clarinetist Larry Combs, bassoonist William Buchman, and horn player Dale Clevenger–the finest from the CSO’s finest sections–along with Daniel Barenboim at piano. For the quintet for piano and string quartet, it’s violinists Samuel Magad and Robert Chen, violist Li-Kuo Chang, cellist John Sharp, and Barenboim again. (For his latest score, a cello concerto being premiered this weekend in the CSO’s season opener, Carter asked for Yo-Yo Ma and got him.) Also on the program is Augusta Read Thomas’s Murmurs in the Mist of Memory, a piece for eleven solo strings inspired by the poetry of Emily Dickinson; Barenboim conducts members of the CSO’s string section. Sunday, September 30, 3 PM, Buntrock Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Steve J. Sherman.