Another Side of Milton Babbitt
Milton Babbitt was the personification of new, academic music during his long and storied career. But not necessarily in a good way; his work was regarded as alienating and self-consciously abstract by the musical hoi polloi. It did not help that an essay he wrote in 1958 was entitled (by his editor, not Babbitt himself) “Who Cares If You Listen,” or that the Philadelphia Orchestra abandoned a premiere of his 1985 composition Transfigured Notes, after three attempts by three different conductors. And they commissioned it!
This reputation not only belies Babbitt’s sunny, witty nature, but more importantly, the breadth of his musical tastes. Babbitt loved jazz and most especially, show music. He even wrote a Broadway musical. And he was the teacher of the finest musical composer of our time, Stephen Sondheim. This side of Babbitt is the focus of a centennial celebration of this multi-faceted artist (he died in 2011) being presented by Network for New Music, a long time champion of his work. The culminating event will be concerts in Philadelphia and Haverford on April 17th and 18th, respectively, including Babbitt-lite material, along with music by Sondheim and other former Babbitt students. There will also be a master class, and a screening of a video documentary about Babbitt’s career entitled Portrait of a Serial Composer. Check out the details at networkfornewmusic.org