In the spring of 2003, I was finishing up my undergrad thesis at the University of Southern Mississippi. I’d been studying Elliott Carter’s Quintet for Piano and Winds for months, and trying to make heads and tails of his newly published Harmony Book. When I learned about the premiere of Carter’s Boston Concerto, my wife and I decided we were making a trip. We scraped up the money (some of it might have been funded by a student loan) and flew to Boston. I thought (foolishly looking back now) that this 94 year old composer could not have many world premieres left in him so we should not miss this one.
So early April 2003, we were sitting in Symphony Hall listening to a splendid concert of Ives, Mahler, Bartok and Carter. As the last notes of the Boston Concerto rang out I remember shooting to my feet and applauding. I looked around and I saw one other young person had done the same. As soon as the entire concert was over I pretty much left my wife in her seat and ran out of the hall hoping to catch Mr. Carter. I arrived at the stage doors and one other person was already waiting there. It was the young guy that had also sprung up to applaud. I asked if he’d seen Elliott Carter yet and he said no. I said, “Elliott Carter is old. He can’t move that fast.” We turned and saw Elliott Carter and his entourage moving slowly toward the exit. I told the other guy, “Let’s stand between him and the exit. He’ll have to give us an autograph then.”
I stood there as he signed a program for the other guy. Mr. Carter looked at me. I was holding my copy of his Harmony Book. He exclaimed, “I can’t believe someone bought that thing! It was a hundred dollars!” I told him that I had purchased my copy on sale. As he signed my book I told him that I had come all the way from Mississippi just to hear the world premiere of the Boston Concerto. He said, “Wow! Was it worth it?” I was pretty starstruck and I couldn’t really say much more by this point. All I could do was nod yes.
I was speechless (which is rare for me). Carter’s music has always been an incredible influence on me. When I got the signed copy in my hands I broke down in tears. My wife and I walked to the BSO coat check and the older gentleman working there asked why I was crying. All I could do was point at the signed title page of the Harmony Book. He smiled and patted me on the back.
We then walked down the street to have dinner at Brasserie Jo in the Colonnade. I looked up and saw Carter and his entourage being seated at a table in a corner by themselves.
When asked where we’d like to be seated, I pointed at Elliott Carter and replied, ‘Right next to them!’ My wife yelled at me, “No stalking Elliott Carter!”
The maître d’ said no also. Apparently they’d asked to be seated in the back away from everyone.
My wife still likes to point out to me that the other guy waiting on an autograph was probably the only person to have their program signed by Mr. Carter and that I should have gotten my program signed also. It never really crossed my mind to get my program signed. The book was more than enough.