Composers Datebook®

Carter's Cello Concerto

Composer's Datebook - September 27, 2023


In September 2001, American composer Elliott Carter was just a few months shy of his 93rd birthday, but still busy composing new works both large and small.

On today’s date that year, Carter’s Cello Concerto received its premiere in Chicago with cellist Yo-Yo Ma and Daniel Barenboim conducting the Chicago Symphony.

Now, Carter’s music is technically challenging for performers, and its complexity can make it equally challenging for audiences, especially at first hearing. Despite all that, Carter’s comments on his music were usually quite straightforward:

“In this score I have tried to find meaningful, personal ways of revealing the cello's vast array of wonderful possibilities,” he wrote. “My Concerto is introduced by the soloist alone, playing a frequently interrupted cantilena that presents ideas later to be expanded into movements.”

A month after its premiere, Ma, Barenboim, and the Chicago Symphony brought the new work to Carnegie Hall, and the New York Times reviewer Anthony Tommasini wrote:

“For all its complexities … the cello part has a rhapsodic, improvisatory quality …. At its conclusion, when Mr. Carter, who is 92, climbed the steps to the stage with a cane to steady him, he received a prolonged standing ovation.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Elliott Carter (1908 – 2012) Cello Concerto Alisa Weilerstein; Staatskapelle Berlin; Daniel Barenboim cond. Decca 478 2735

On This Day


  • 1879 - English composer Cyril Scott, in Oxton, Cheshire;

  • 1898 - American composer Vincent Youmans, in New York City;

  • 1903 - Russian-born American composer and songwriter Vernon Duke (Vladimir Dukelsky), in Parfianovka (Pskov) (Gregorian date: Oct. 10);


  • 1921 - German composer Engelbert Humperdinck, age 67, in Neustrelitz;

  • 1956 - British composer Gerald Finzi, age 55, in Oxford;


  • 1960 - Stravinsky: "Monumentum pro Gesualdo di Venosa ad CD annum" (three madrigals by Gesualdo transcribed for orchestra), in Venice, with the composer conducting;


  • 1827 - At a private party in Vienna, Franz Schubert performs selections from his last piano sonatas;

  • 1892 - Czech composer Antonin Dvorák arrives in New York City to take up a position at the National Conservatory.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®