The Many Views of Betty Freeman

Beyond Contemporary Music



Betty Freeman with John Cage and Merce Cunningham
at a Dinner Party in New York City, November 1981
Photo courtesy Betty Freeman

Betty Freeman with Lou Harrison and Milton Babbitt
at the American Music Center’s Annual Meetingand
Awards Ceremonyin New York, December 22, 1986
Photo courtesy Betty Freeman


FRANK J. OTERI: Well, let’s talk a little bit about other music genres. We talked at the very beginning of this conversation about the encroachment of popular culture, and rock music on classical music. Is there anything in rock or jazz that you find interesting as a listener?

BETTY FREEMAN: No. I really don’t know it. I don’t listen to it.

FRANK J. OTERI: Not jazz either?

BETTY FREEMAN: I don’t like jazz. It’s very mechanical for me. One instrument plays, everybody applauds, the next instrument plays, everybody applauds, etc., then they all play together, then it finishes. It’s very predetermined for me; it’s very strict. Anyway, that’s what I hear in jazz.

FRANK J. OTERI: That’s interesting because for me, the composers that we’ve talked about are so different from each other. Reich, Cage, and Babbitt just to name three. Their music is diametrically opposed to each other in some ways, yet you love all three.

BETTY FREEMAN: Well, it’s all compelling.

FRANK J. OTERI: So it doesn’t really matter how it’s put together?

BETTY FREEMAN: No, the system it’s based on doesn’t matter at all. In fact, Birtwistle‘s music is based on a completely different way of writing music.

FRANK J. OTERI: You mentioned Lou Harrison, and Harry Partch whose music has almost nothing with Western classical tradition. Do you listen to world music, music outside the Western classical tradition at all?

BETTY FREEMAN: No. I’ve decided I have enough to do, I haven’t listened to everything in the European music yet.

FRANK J. OTERI: But you do listen to older European music?

BETTY FREEMAN: No.

FRANK J. OTERI: You go to the opera, you went to Rigoletto.

BETTY FREEMAN: Oh, that’s occasionally. But I don’t listen at home.

FRANK J. OTERI: Only to contemporary music.

BETTY FREEMAN: That’s right. I have hundreds of CDs. And I don’t like CDs; they have nothing to do with performance, absolutely nothing. They’re like what a print is to a painting; they’re removed from the original.

FRANK J. OTERI: Yet some pieces of music actually sound better on recordings than they do live.

BETTY FREEMAN: They do?

FRANK J. OTERI: I mean for me. I think Feldman‘s music sounds better on recording than it does live.

BETTY FREEMAN: Really?

FRANK J. OTERI: At a concert hall I’m so busy hearing other people making noises and his music is so quiet, it’s for me to pay attention. In fact I’m a big LP collector but I think Feldman’s music sounds better on CDs than on LP because the surface on CDs is quieter.

BETTY FREEMAN: Oh, really.

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