Rediscovering John La Montaine
FRANK J. OTERI: Your Piano Concerto wasn’t self-published…
JOHN LA MONTAINE: Actually that Concerto was cooking for four years. I started it the day before I went into the Navy. My first sketches were from the day I went into the Navy. That was cooking in my head throughout the war. I call it now In Time of War. I had offered it to 3 publishers, and they all refused it.
FRANK J. OTERI: Wow! This is prior to Galaxy taking it.
JOHN LA MONTAINE: It would have been too big an investment. It would have been a bad investment.
JOHN LA MONTAINE: That’s true. It was the only piece from that whole commission that was performed by all of them. The things that Broudie published were good pieces, but they were on a limited number of pages. But orchestra parts…
FRANK J. OTERI: When you think about it, a new piece of music being performed in one or two seasons by six different orchestras, that’s unheard of, even today…
JOHN LA MONTAINE: And by one of the greatest pianists of the time, Jorge Bolet.
FRANK J. OTERI: It’s amazing to get such recognition. After reading through all the press materials and all the coverage that this work got, it seemed inevitable that it would get the Pulitzer Prize…
JOHN LA MONTAINE: [laughs] Thank you. I’m so pleased you feel that way. Why weren’t you in the right position at that time? [laughs] Look, that was opus 9. I was a kid in their view.
FRANK J. OTERI: But, for the rest of your career, nothing else ever got as much exposure as that piece.
JOHN LA MONTAINE: Well, even more surprising to me is the fact that no one got the idea to commission me to write a second concerto. I didn’t write the second concerto until 30 years, 40 years later.
FRANK J. OTERI: Wow.
JOHN LA MONTAINE: And then I fell in love with the idea and wrote 3. So there are a total of 4 concertos. People say, I know your concerto. And I say, which one? Oh, is there another one? [laughs] To me, the second concerto is the finest work I’ve ever done for piano. It’s so creative. It’s almost unbelievable.
FRANK J. OTERI: I love that opening flourish in the solo piano.
JOHN LA MONTAINE: The whole story is in that. The whole concerto was made from that fragment. Not a single bar is without it.
FRANK J. OTERI: It’s such a haunting motif. Which leads me to another question because in the writings that have appeared about you—there is an entry in the Grove Dictionary of Music, and it describes you music as being serial…
JOHN LA MONTAINE: [laughs]
FRANK J. OTERI: Yeah, I thought you’d find that amusing.
JOHN LA MONTAINE: I wrote them a letter and I said, which piece did you receive? [laughs] I can count all my serial pieces on one hand. After hearing one of them, I asked my great teacher Stella Roberts if she knew it was a serial work. She said, no I didn’t. She’s a brilliant woman, that’s not an insult. I don’t believe in -isms. I don’t want to be attached to an -ism. I don’t want to be stuck in some hole, expected to do a certain thing. There is not one of my pieces that is like another piece. If you can find me two pieces that are alike, I’ll give you two other ones. [laughs]