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  Henry Brant

Henry Brant is considered to be one of the principal pioneers of 20th Century spatial music, writing work in which the planned positioning of the performers throughout the hall, as well as on stage, is an essential factor in the composing scheme. Born in Montreal in 1913, he moved to New York in 1929, and spent the next 20 years composing and conducting for radio, film, ballet, and jazz groups, while also composing experimentally for the concert stage. In his 72 years of composing, Brant has garnered major international recognition, including numerous awards and accolades ranging from two Guggenheim Fellowships, the Prix Italia (being the first American to win this award), and the American Music Center's Letter of Distinction, to major international retrospectives of his work and the designation of a Henry Brant Week in Boston by Mayor Kevin White.

Brant's work has spanned the spectrum of styles and genres from tone poems and chamber music to ritual oratorios and symphonies. The 1984 work Fire in the Amstel is written for four boatloads of 25 flutes each, four jazz drummers, four church carillons, three brass bands and four street organs. A more recent work Millennium 2 calls for a 35-piece brass orchestra, jazz combo, percussion ensemble, gospel choir, gamelan ensemble, bluegrass group, boy's choir, three pianos, organ and ten vocal soloists. At age 88, Brant remains a dynamic and prolific figure in modern music: his 1997 spatial work, Festive Eighty, had its first performance in Central Park in July, 1997, and in Vienna's Musikverein, the Vienna Radio Orchestra performed the premiere of Brant's completion of Schubert's B minor Symphony on October 14, 1997.

Brant turned 88 on September 15, 2001, has not decided to call it quits. On the contrary, three months after this benchmark he appeared onstage as organist in his new work Ice Field, for over 100 orchestral musicians, as Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony presented its world premiere at Davies Symphony Hall, December 12, 13, 14, and 15. The work was commissioned for the SFS by Other Minds, with support from the Rockefeller Foundation’s Multi-Arts Production Fund and A Gathering of Other Minds. Read Charles Amirkhanian's interview with Brant, which took place at Davies Hall in August, 2001.

On April 8, 2002, Brant was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music for Ice Field. Read about it here.
You can hear excerpts from the live performance of Ice Field recorded at Davies Symphony Hall, December 15, 2001. Henry Brant died peacefully at his home in Santa Barbara, California, April 26, 2008. He was 94.

Music excerpts:


Homeless People
Recorded at Other Minds 4, November 11, 1997
Henry Brant, piano with the Onyx Quartet
Anna Presler, violin; Phyllis Kamrin, violin; Kurt Rohde, viola; Leighton Fong, cello
and Richard Yaus, accordion
World concert première

Ice Field (three excerpts, Movements 1, 2 & 4)
Recorded at Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco
December 15, 2001
San Francisco Symphony, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas
with Brad Lubman, guest conductor; Henry Brant, organ
© 2001 Henry Brant