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Betty Freeman, patron to such contemporary musical masters as John Cage, Philip Glass and Pierre Boulez, has died. She was 87.
Freeman died Saturday of pancreatic cancer at her Beverly Hills home, daughter Shelley Butler said Wednesday.
Over four decades, Freeman commissioned works from about 80 composers and underwrote performances and recordings. Her gifts ranged from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars.
“I’ve always been interested in the new, and don’t understand why everybody isn’t,” Freeman told The New York Times in 1998. “I like contemporary painting, clothing, furniture, architecture. So of course I like contemporary music. Old music is fine. But I like complexity, challenge, ambiguity, abstraction.”
“I cannot think of many individuals whose actions would have had a more profound effect on our art form or culture in general,” Esa-Pekka Salonen, music director for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, told the Los Angeles Times.
John Adams’ opera “Nixon in China” was dedicated to her.
The music Freeman supported frequently ran to minimalism and dissonance. Based on her personal taste, she backed artists who might be too avant-garde to win art committee or government grants.
“She had a passion for it,” her daughter said. “She didn’t care if anyone else liked it or not.”
In 1964, Freeman met eccentric American composer Harry Partch, who was living in his car. Partch invented a 43-tone musical scale and a variety of instruments to play his compositions. Freeman got him a house and a studio and supported him for a decade until his death in 1974.
In the 1980s, she held musical salons that were famous for attracting modern composers.
“Her greatest effect was as a kind of focal point for artistic activity,” Adams told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday. “If Betty had a dinner, everyone came. You didn’t say no, partly out of respect and love for her and partly because you knew it was going to be a really exciting evening.”
Freeman also was a photographer, whose images of composers and musicians were displayed at Carnegie Hall.
Before turning to music, she collected art. She was the inspiration for a 1966 David Hockney painting “Beverly Hills Housewife.”
Born Betty Wishnick in Chicago on June 2, 1921, she grew up in Brooklyn and New Rochelle, N.Y. Her wealth was inherited from her father, a successful chemical engineer.
She married Stanley Freeman and had four children before they divorced. She later married painter and sculptor Franco Assetto.
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