100-Year-Old Composer Elliott Carter Parties Like It’s 1939


The composer Elliott Carter, who was born the same year as the Model T, celebrated his 100th birthday last night at Carnegie Hall by attending the New York premiere of a work he wrote last year. Interventions, the intense and muscular piano concerto played by Daniel Barenboim, with James Levine leading the Boston Symphony Orchestra, proves that the centenarian avant-gardist is still producing music with the rhythmic vigor of a composer 20 years younger… make that 70 years younger. At the end of the performance, Carter, who was sitting in the audience, got to his feet, marched down the center aisle and up the stairs to the stage, where he lingered for a while, grinning and absorbing the standing ovation. Someone wheeled out a towering cake, which the composer tasted by dipping his finger in the icing. Applause accompanied his slow processional back to his seat.

Carter was no prodigy. The first ensemble to perform a work of his at Carnegie Hall was the Harvard Glee Club, in 1951. For the next several decades, he remained an esteemed pioneer of contemporary music, adored by crowds that sometimes numbered in the dozens. He hit the big time in his nineties, though, when he plunged into a decade of frenzied creativity that included his first opera, defiantly titled What’s Next? The answer is 110.