Centenary hosts musical tribute to composer Milton Babbitt

SHREVEPORT, LA — Musicians from Centenary College, Northwestern State University, and Louisiana Tech University will join forces to perform music by the American composer Milton Babbitt on Thursday, February 7, in Anderson Auditorium at Centenary’s Hurley School of Music. A brief pre-concert talk at 6:30 p.m. precedes the 7:00 p.m. concert “Babbittfest Shreveport: A Tribute to Milton Babbitt.” The event is free and open to the public.

Milton Babbitt (1916-2011), one of the most influential composers and teachers of the late 20th century, was noted for his exploration and development of the 12-tone system of music composition into the realms of rhythm, dynamics, and timbre, known as the “time-point” system. Babbitt was both a mathematician and a musician by training and taught both subjects at Princeton University.

In 1958, Babbitt wrote an article about the time-point system for High Fidelity magazine entitled “The Composer as Specialist,” noting that this complex composition system had mostly specialized rather than general appeal, much like advanced scientific research. The editor, without Babbitt’s knowledge or permission, changed the article’s title to “Who Cares If You Listen?,” a phrase that would follow Babbitt throughout the rest of his career. Despite this “ivory tower” reputation, he nurtured a love for musical theater and produced music that was playful and witty at the same time that it was complex and dissonant.

Babbitt’s influence on American music in the 20th century was profound. In addition to producing his own compositions, Babbitt mentored and taught jazz guitarist/composer Stanley Jordan, musical iconoclast Frederic Rzewski, and Bruce Adolphe, the popular NPR “Piano Puzzler” composer. His most noted student was Stephen Sondheim, composer of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods, and Assassins, among others. Centenary’s Hurley School of Music and the Department of Theatre are collaborating to produce Sondheim’s Company at Marjorie Lyons Playhouse on April 6 and 7.

Babbitfest Shreveport features the musical talents of Centenary’s Thomas Hundemer along with Dr. Cain Budds of Louisiana Tech and Andrew Boyd, Paul Christopher, Dr. Malena McLaren, Oliver Molina, and Terrie Sanders of Northwestern State University. The group previously produced Babbittfest Natchitoches at Northwestern State in October 2018.

“Northwestern State’s Paul Christopher and I have many common musical interests and work together frequently,” says Hundemer. “Babbitt’s music is incredibly complex and a real time commitment, so from the beginning we discussed repeating the program here in Shreveport and this was our first chance to do so. My contribution to the concert is ‘Around the Horn’ for solo horn, a piece that displays witty and soaring musical lines. The title is a punny reference to baseball players tossing the ball around the infield – Babbitt was a big baseball fan.”

For more information, contact Tom Hundemer at thundemer@centenary.edu.


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