Saturday, February 05, 2011

When Milton Was Ninety Years Old

Milton Babbitt and John Clare
There was a time when I was interviewing two or three artists a day. Usually there was a composer involved but sometimes it was just a performer or artist for a feature. But more often than not, I would set up a morning interview, plan a meal break and do another interview in the afternoon, sometimes even another. Half the time artist interviews could be done on the phone, but I always tried to make composer interviews in person, in their studio or if need be, a "tape sync" where the composer was at another radio station and we would combine the tracks so the audio quality was the highest it could be.
My first in person interview at a composer's house was George Crumb. I know, what a start. He even performed what he composed that morning, and we played with his dog Yoda! (Read about that day here and here.)
Interviewing Milton
Later that year, in August 2006 after corresponding with Ed Matthew at G Schirmer, I set up an interview with Milton Babbitt in Princeton and also an interview in Manhattan with composer/conductor Jose Serebrier.  When I book an interview, I always read up on the subject and listen to everything I possibly can. Mind you, since high school I have been trying to learn and listen to everything I can get my hands on in new music, so often it is returning to works. On top of that, for years, my reading has been on industry related books and articles, so when a new record guide or composer biography comes out, I'm on it. It is just a passion.
I don't write down questions, but usually when I am nervous, or know I'm going to talk with a legend in the field, I consult friends and colleagues what they might ask.  At the time for these interviews, the "executive producer" and music director was Dick Strawser, an invaluable resource. I do try to ask some of the same questions, "How did you become a composer?" "What are you writing currently?" but always try to listen as we warm up so that it is a conversation, and that we explore great points and stories that the interviewees share.
Before I interviewed Milton, I made sure I read and talked with Frank Oteri who was also very helpful with his materials when he interviewed Babbitt; there was also the famous "article" which Milton passionately explained.
So Tuesday, August 15th, 2006 I left with Casey Houtz, the audio engineer, to drive to Princeton and then NYC. The trip was easy and in no time we were setup.
Our interview is here, unedited and complete, running 71 minutes. Milton was
After the interview, Milton walked us out and showed us how close we were to the RCA Studios he used to work at for so many years!

Later, we put together some outtakes that would not run in the radio show, but made us smile. Listen to the wav file here.
I originally blogged about the day I talked with Milton here.

Last weekend when I heard the news Milton had passed away, I was moved, and quite sad. I listened to Reflections and smoked a cuban cigar.  I was especially touched by Davey Rakowski's remembrance. Cheers, Milton!

(The title of this entry is inspired by Arvo Part's work, When Sarah Was Ninety)

1 comment:

Jonny Gators said...

The link to the interview is a dead link. Could someone please fix this?