David Robertson – Carter and Mozart

Written by: Colin Anderson

The BBC Symphony Orchestra is about to tackle the music of Elliott Carter and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with Principal Guest Conductor David Robertson…

American conductor David Robertson “studied in London from ‘76 to ‘79 and I lived here for a couple of years afterwards. When I walk around London now I see the same buildings, but it’s not the same city I studied in; one of the main differences is you can now get a sandwich on every street corner!” David is the recently appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. “I really admire the orchestra’s breadth of repertoire.” Coming up are Elliott Carter and Mozart, which is “exciting because there is a lot of correspondence between repertoires and you can throw almost anything at the BBC Symphony.”

Carter and Mozart are linked by “sheer craftsmanship; in fact one of the things that really helped Carter crystallise his mature style came from studying the way that Mozart superimposes different things in his operas and chamber music. Phrase length and structure can be so irregular in Mozart in the overlapping of various different contrapuntal lines. The end of the Jupiter Symphony is the definitive example of that; all of these lines coming together and interacting and yet none of them get in the way of each other – this is the ideal that Carter is working for in that tempos, tone colours and pitch are similarly interwoven. Wolfgang would be proud to know that he was a model for Elliott!”

Wolfgang’s birthday is on January 27 – he’ll be 250 this year! A day of his music in the Barbican Hall and nearby St Giles includes David conducting the Jupiter Symphony and the Mass in C minor. David is looking forward to performing Carter and Mozart within a couple of weeks of each other: “they are both about music that requires an unbelievable purity and clarity in its expression. It’ll be fascinating to do them with the same orchestra.” This weekend, January 13-15, Elliott Carter’s output gets full exposure under the banner of “Get Carter!”. Films, talks and concerts, morning to evening. And not only Carter, for Debussy, Bartók, 400-year-old madrigals, Copland and Ives are also included. “Carter knew Ives and was very involved with music criticism at the time that Ives was really being discovered. Many of the things he found in Ives’s music helped Carter break out of the neo-classical writing that all Boulanger students subscribed too; the Holiday Overture is like a turbo-charged version of Copland.” That invigorating piece begins Saturday evening’s concert, just a part showing “one of the most remarkable stylistic sloughing off of a skin that any composer has ever done; an extraordinary birth of musical exploration.”

Elliott Carter is a genuine 20th-century composer, he was born in 1908, and is also for the 21st-century; he remains actively writing and accepting commissions and will hopefully be present for the Weekend. “It’s fantastic to discuss things with him, and he sees different ways of approaching his music, which may surprise you given the precision of his notation. The edge of his intelligence is razor sharp.”

The Weekend will put Carter “in context because it is connected up with the musical currents that he lived through. Carter is not just about the music he has written, he’s about a whole period of musical history that we’ve all been part of.”


  • Get Carter! – Barbican Hall and Cinemas, and Guildhall School of Music, 13-15 January
  • Mozart Day – Barbican Hall & St Giles, 27 January
  • BBCSO
  • Further Carter events at GSMD, 11-13 January
  • GSMD
  • Barbican
  • The above article was published in “What’s On in London” on 12 January 2006 and is reproduced here with permission

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