Sept. 15 would have been the 100th birthday of composer Henry Brant. Born in Canada to American parents, Brant forged a career that was similarly bilateral. An expert orchestrator, he plied that trade in a variety of commercial settings: big bands, radio, television, and film. (A partnership with film composer Alex North was especially symbiotic, Brant orchestrating North’s scores to everything from “Cleopatra” to “Good Morning, Vietnam.”) At the same time, in his own music, Brant pursued a distinct avant-garde path.
Precociousness (Aaron Copland tipped the teenage Brant as a composer to watch) and longevity (he died in 2008) made Brant the last great exemplar of ultramodernism, a branch of freewheeling experimentalism that had its heyday in the 1920s and ’30s. (Charles Ives, spiritual godfather to many of the ultramodernists, was an important mentor; Brant later engineered a dazzling, labor-of-love orchestration of Ives’s “Concord” Sonata.)