FRANK J. OTERI: I’m going to ask you a question that might be difficult to answer. It’s sort of a loaded question. Here you wrote this amazing piano concerto, won the Pulitzer Prize, had two Guggenheim fellowships, a piece performed by 6 different orchestras, you wrote a piece for Kennedy’s inauguration, you were the star composer, circa 1960. The star composer…
JOHN LaMONTAINE: Some people thought so.
FJO: The music is fantastic in these pieces. So why aren’t you a household name? Why isn’t everybody listening to your music? Why aren’t there recordings everywhere?
JL: I can’t answer that. What you say it true. Once in awhile there is somebody who knows about my work and gets more interested it in. Even though I’ve had a publishing company, I’ve never been pushy. I’ve never spent a lot of time on publicity or anything like that. I just want to write my pieces. If they don’t live on their own, they don’t live anyway. All I ever wanted to do since I was 5 years old was to be a composer, and that did not include being a publicist.
FJO: So in a way the music is its own reward.
JL: Oh, sure. I listen to my own pieces sometimes. I know a lot of composers don’t. But I want to see if they’re whole, the whole story for that particular piece. I have a list of pieces that I’ve written that I don’t feel that are good enough. They’re in my catalog, but I just as soon let them go. But that’s a small number because when I work on a piece, I give my all to it.
FJO: Do you wish more people were aware of your music, that there were more performances?
JL: That’s up to them!
FJO: So it doesn’t really matter to you.
JL: No, I can’t say that. That’s too self-centered. It’s nice. I really like it when people like my music. I really like that a lot. It means we’re talking the same human stories.
FJO: One of things I wonder about, in 1959, 1960 you were this meteor in American music. There was a period, I guess in the 50s to the early 60s, to the Kennedy years before the Kennedy assassination, where American classical composers had some visibility. Copland was very visible. Samuel Barber was very visible. Menotti…
JL: They earned that. They’re good composers.