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Henry Brant, Experimental Composer on Grand Scale


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Henry Brant -- an American maverick composer who added the dimension of space to music by placing musicians in nooks and crannies of concert halls, on boats floating down the Amstel River in Amsterdam or arrayed throughout sports arenas -- has died. He was 94.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning composer died Saturday at his home in Santa Barbara, according to associates.

Brant's pieces were always events tailor-made for specific sites. A typical example was “500: Hidden Hemisphere," commissioned in 1992 by Lincoln Center in New York in honor of the 500th anniversary of Columbus' voyage to the New World. Brant positioned military and civilian marching bands as well as a steel-drum band around the campus' reflecting pool. The composer, a small man never seen without a baseball cap or visor, was dressed in his usual color-coordinated athletic garb, this time blinding yellow.

Much of the music of America's past, its dances and marches and dirges, was played simultaneously. But Brant's ingenious use of the location and carefully engineered counterpoint allowed the ear to accommodate the various musical strands. Music not meant to get along did.

Brant often thought big. In 1984, he turned central Amsterdam into a concert venue with “Fire on the Amstel." He needed four boats to carry 100 flutists for a piece that also incorporated multiples of jazz drummers, church carillons, brass bands and street organs. “Orbits," a 1979 work for 80 trombones, at one point has an 80-note chord, half the pitches part of the standard 12-note scale, the other half microtones (pitches that would fall between the cracks of a piano keyboard).

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