Turning 90 — an event that the Kennedy Center and Tanglewood are celebrating this summer with birthday concerts — has caused Williams to reflect on his accomplishments, his remaining ambitions and what a lifetime of music has meant to him.
“It’s given me the ability to breathe, the ability to live and understand that there’s more to corporal life,” Williams says. “Without being religious, which I’m not especially, there is a spiritual life, an artistic life, a realm that’s above the mundanities of everyday realities. Music can raise one’s thinking to the level of poetry. We can reflect on how necessary music has been for humanity. I always like to speculate that music is older than language, that we were probably beating drums and blowing on reeds before we could speak. So it’s an essential part of our humanity.
“It’s given me my life.”