John Harbison is an American composer whose work is notable for its astonishing range and diversity. He has written for every conceivable type of concert performance and is also considered original and accessible for a wide range of audiences. His major works include four string quartets, four symphonies, the 1987 Pulitzer Prize-winning cantata The Flight into Egypt and three operas, including "The Great Gatsby," which was commissioned by The Metropolitan Opera and first performed in December 1999. Harbison has been composer-in-residence with the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Santa Fe Chamber Festival, the American Academy in Rome, Tanglewood, the California Institute for the Arts and Chamber Music West. He is also an Institute Professor at MIT and the Acting Artistic Director of Emmanuel Music. Harbison holds an MFA from Princeton University.
Question: What is your highest virtue?
John Harbison: The hardest thing is to have compassion and forgiveness. Tolerance is also a really hard one, because some of the major issues in this country . . . you know, race, and I’d have to even say a kind of intellectual tolerance. I’m very bothered that many groups in this country are dismissive of other groups because they feel they are not as cultured and not as educated. I think we have a very tremendous attraction to intolerance almost bred into the early life of this country. So yeah. I would consider those my major virtues. And also it’s, you know, so hard to apologize for things. And I’m always impressed by people who, when they’ve done something really wrong, don’t do the standard thing which is just to make it worse and ostracize, but actually go the whole way and try to reengage the situation. And in our profession, our music profession, there are constant tests of those issues.
Recorded On: 6/12/07