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Remembering fearless and relevant composer and teacher Milton Babbitt with host Nadia Sirota

Friday, February 04, 2011 - 01:45 PM

Composer Milton Babbitt, who passed away on Jan. 29 at age 94, was not only one of the most influential musical innovators in the 20th century, he was a man whose wit and love for life inspired everyone around him. Join us tonight, Friday at 8 p.m. EST on Q2, in honoring the legacy, work and humanity of this great 20th century thinker. In this special presentation, we’ll hear from Babbitt himself in excerpts from a 1985 interview with former WNYC host Tim Page; from longtime Babbitt colleague Joel Sachs; and from students, champions, and fellow composers whose lives he's touched.

As a pedagogue, Babbitt taught a statistically shocking percentage of composers over the last six decades. In talking to his students, we’ve unearthed scores of stories that tell not only of Babbitt’s compositional wisdom, but of his love for Chinese food, microbrews, baseball and musical theater, to name but a few topics.

It has been really amazing and humbling to collect all of these wonderful stories about arguably the biggest personality in 20th century music, but we want to keep the dialogue going! 

We have three options for you:

  • Leave your Babbitt stories, reminiscences and anecdotes in the comments section below
  • Submit your photos to q2@wqxr.org or in the box below (please include your name) and we'll add them to the Babbitt photo gallery that host Nadia Sirota has begun. Scroll down or click "See Results" to view the slideshow.
  • Call in your tribute to Milton Babbitt at our Google voicebox at (347) 687-9385


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Nadia Sirota


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Comments [5]

Richard Friedman from Music From Other Minds

Sometime in 1966 I shared a car ride with Milton Babbitt from NYC to Bell Labs in New Jersey. We were going to visit J.K.Randall and see what he was doing with the Music IV program. We were Ben Boretz, Charles Dodge, Babbitt, and myself. I was 22 and going because I worked at the NYU Computer Center and we were looking into getting Music IV running. Of course I knew who Babbitt was and had heard much of his music at that point. Likewise, I was both nervous and awestruck, sitting in the back seat with the man himself. So what did we talk about? Benjamin Britten and his Spring Symphony. I think I had just heard it on the radio and brought it up as something to talk about. A lively discussion (every discussion with Milton was lively) between us carried on for most of the trip, with Boretz and Dodge sitting somewhat amazed in the front seats. Babbitt said at one point: "I wish I could get my students to listen to Britten and the Spring Symphony".

That was one of only three times I met Milton and talked to him. The first was at his lab at Columbia where I got a personal demonstration of the RCA Synthesizer. The last time was when he gave a concert at Mills College here in Oakland, about 20 years ago. I doubted he would remember me after 25 years, and mentioned the car ride we took. Yes, he did remember, and that we talked about Britten!

We are diminished by his departure.

Mar. 08 2011 02:19 PM

It would be nice if once Q2 has gone through its wonderful collection on the Maestro, if all of them streams were put together in once archive on one web page, with appropriate edited text derived and redacted from all of the individual pages. This compilation page could then be put in Features.

Feb. 06 2011 02:47 PM

This is without a doubt the most valuable piece about Babbitt in the Q2 series or remembrances.

Feb. 05 2011 06:14 AM
Jack Curtis Dubowsky from St Paul MN

I was honored to meet Milton at the Focus Festival at Juilliard in 2002 when I was living in the east village. He was very sweet. They played some of his tape music. That's my recollection. It was amazing to meet him in person. I recall Pia Gilbert was also at the concert, or one of the concerts. I had transcribed her oral history when I was at UCLA. Tickets to the Focus Festival were free and you could hear amazing music and meet such a legend as Milton in person!

Feb. 04 2011 07:20 PM

When I was a FROMM player at Tanglewood in the summer of 2006, I was assigned the daunting task of performing Milton’s solo viola work Play It Again Sam (originally written for Juilliard Quartet violist Sam Rhodes). It’s a TOUGH piece and I was terrified to play the work through for Milton, whose keen ears loomed mythically in my consciousness. We met up in Hawthorne, a cabin which was the domain of the composition fellows and the only air-conditioned space available during a sweltering summer. When I had finished a run-through, he said “congratulations, you played all of the pitches,” from which I inferred the tacit comment, “and about 60% of the correct rhythms” (the piece is a minefield of nested tuplets). But Milton’s next comment completely reset my thinking: “Make the piece your own. Play it as poetically and musically as you want, it’s YOU up on that stage.” This was a wonderful comment to hear, and it’s an idea to which I often return prior to performances of all stripes. As exacting as Babbitt's notation is, it exists to serve a musical, expressive idea. The performance was a breakthrough for me, and I'll never forget the experience. Milton was such an inspiring composer and a model of wit, compassion and humanity. He will be sorely missed

Feb. 04 2011 04:06 PM

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