Elliott Remembrance

In 2000, Elliott asked me to record his solo timpani pieces, a daunting task, but something that I had thought long and hard about, and felt ready and eager to tackle. I played for him several times in the months leading up to the recording, and I remember vividly the first time we got together for this project. I was practicing the pieces at Juilliard, and he arrived one soggy, rainy afternoon, without escort. He seemed a little bit disoriented, hard of hearing, frail and unsettled. I got him situated; he took off his raincoat, screwed in his hearing aids, and spent the next two hours amazing me with his insight, knowledge and laser-like precision. What was remarkable was not just his uncanny ability to remember music he had written 40 years earlier: moreover, it was his fluency with the instrument itself, and his thorough knowledge of how other composers had used it to best effect. This moment clarified for me an essential truth about Elliott’s art: that his unparalleled ability to write “extended techniques” grew directly out of his encyclopedic knowledge and careful study of the music of the past.