Sunday, January 04, 2009


Alan Rich brings the sad news of the death yesterday of Betty Freeman, the great music patron and photographer. I never met her — although I always sort of expected, or at least hoped, that the occasion might arise — but of course my life was immeasurably enriched by her largesse, as was yours.

The list of ways in which Freeman helped shape the course of contemporary music over the past 50 years is nothing short of astonishing. It includes commissions and financial support for individual works — Nixon in China, L'amour du de loin, Different Trains, and many more — as well as funding for recordings, rehearsals and other projects. And then there were the broader, unspecified, let's-make-this-happen bequests: annual living grants for John Cage and Harry Partch, the creation of Lou Harrison's Gamelan Si Betty, and Lord knows what else. (There's a jaw-dropping list, probably a little out of date by now, here, as well as a fascinating interview from 2000 with Frank J. Oteri, from which I lifted this photo montage by David Hockney.)

What I always liked best about Betty Freeman was the conviction — I'm not sure where I got this idea, but Alan's obit would seem to bear it out — that her money went to a wider range of music than she actually appreciated or liked. Composers didn't have to cater to her tastes to get her support; that's one of the ways she differed from, say, the Medicis (also, no poison). They just had to be doing serious creative work, in a way that seemed apt to broaden everyone's cultural experience; if Betty herself liked the results, well, that was a bonus.

She was, as far as I could ever tell, a paragon of enlightened patronage. And at this unpleasant juncture in our national life — when accumulated wealth carries with it a particularly noxious stink — she stands as a much-needed role model. R.I.P.


At 1/04/2009 6:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

l'amour "du" loin reminds me of this...

At 1/04/2009 7:06 PM, Blogger Joshua Kosman said...

Urp, ma faute. Je l'ai corrigé.

At 1/05/2009 8:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Josh. I link to some other tributes, and to Tony Tommasini's excellent 1998 NY Times profile of Betty, and add a few words and pics here:

At 1/05/2009 11:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Betty was a marvelous supporter of jacaranda, the concert series that Patrick Scott and I run in Los Angeles. Her support arrived in the mail, quite apropos of nothing - we'd never approached her, but had certainly seen her out and about. Alan's piece really says it the best - she was a no-nonsense, but open kind of person. I miss her terribly, and will every time I hear certain music.

At 1/15/2009 1:55 PM, Blogger Parker said...

Thank God for people like Betty Freeman. A truly enlightened, deeply committed music lover and philanthropist who made a huge impact in her city, and thus, beyond.

Still, I think history will be even kinder to Gordon Getty. A man who loves the music so much he composes it, and who nurtures and sustains countless orchestras in the Bay Area and beyond.

At 2/07/2009 10:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We must not forget that she was the force behind modern classics such as Adam's
opera Nixon in China, Steve's electronic string quartet Different
Trains and many more. More than
80 composers benifited from her support spanning over 300 works.


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