Author Topic: Boulez-a-thon  (Read 3156 times)

Offline guidolibido

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Boulez-a-thon
« on: September 26, 2011, 04:11:47 pm »
Who is planning to go the Boulez concerts this weekend?

I have some spare tickets (although at least one is promised to JSC) so let me know if you are dithering about going. Also, for any students, I believe there is a 50% discount across the board. I think tickets aren't selling as well as they'd hoped (and this in a season when John Cage sold out the QEH).

I'd also like to know what people think about the issue of whether Boulez's conducting career has taken too much time away from his composing. In a profile-lite for the Economist (http://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2011/09/music-pierre-boulez), I sounded out R3OK's favourite critic on this issue, as well as Sandy Goehr, but I'd have liked to canvas wider opinion on the matter for interest's sake.
« Last Edit: September 28, 2011, 03:01:51 pm by guidolibido »
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Selva Oscura

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Re: Boulez-o-thon
« Reply #1 on: September 26, 2011, 06:27:06 pm »
I'd also like to know what people think about the issue of whether Boulez's conducting career has taken too much time away from his composing.
For what it's worth: I'm more of an admirer of Boulez as a conductor than as a composer, so I guess my answer is no, although if his conducting activities hadn't taken off in the way they did, perhaps his music would have retained (what I see as the) structural ingenuity and expressive originality of Le marteau sans maître rather than becoming increasingly long-winded and decorative.

Having said that I would love to have gone to the concerts if I were in the country. It's very kind of you to offer them here.

simon howard

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Re: Boulez-o-thon
« Reply #2 on: September 27, 2011, 06:46:17 am »
That other r3ok favourite Adorno makes much of Mahler's conducting as a form of alienated labour, taking him away from his 'proper' work of composition (although he also says that Mahler's experience as a conductor is a highly significant factor in the music, often against the grain). Did Boulez ever have any financial need to conduct?

This is absurdly speculative - but I wonder if the greater & greater scope of the conducting runs parallel with the music Boulez writes becoming more a part of mainstream classical music (though you wouldn't know it from most concerts, of course) in its affect, intent, for all the grand technological developments? Something mirrored or echoed in the way so much writing about Boulez now revolves around the idea of his music as 'sensuous', in a French 'tradition' or:

The concerns of Boulez's music have often, in fact, been more conventional than either he or his apologists are prepared to admit. For all the open-ended structures and the mania for revision – Boulez is still refining and reimagining pieces that started life in the 1940s – his music does things that western composers have always wanted to do.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2011/sep/22/pierre-boulez-interview

I don't mean that the music Boulez conducts has subliminally influenced his music (I'm sure Boulez can spot the subliminal a mile away) - I mean, more, the kinds of cultural structures, situations, involving what his music now does :-\.




Selva Oscura

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Re: Boulez-o-thon
« Reply #3 on: September 27, 2011, 08:33:46 am »
the way so much writing about Boulez now revolves around the idea of his music as 'sensuous', in a French 'tradition'
I think it's been like that for a long time though - apparently Adorno himself, after hearing a Boulez premiere in Cologne (Improvisations sur Mallarmé? must check my eyewitness source on this), described the music as "Prélude à l'après-midi d'une vibraphone".  :facepalm:

Stockhausen on Boulez (as related to Karl Wörner in the early 1960s), with perhaps a little more insight than Tom Service:
Boulez is a composer for whom the quest for technical perfection is absolute, and this technique serves him as a basis for the formation of an unalterable personal style. His objective is the work of art, mine rather its workings. (...) Harnessed to this quest there is a constant endeavour to come to terms with tradition. In his work we find another successful résumé of the tradition of the West - and this at precisely the time when such a concerpt has become questionable. Boulez has a very definite idea that he must continue the French tradition, and he also has a clear idea of how he must continue it. He is decidedly intent on living on in his works; this is why he strives towards autonomy in his works, and why he constantly tends to build up "great works" from his store of experience and knowledge (...) his urge towards synthesis can even successfully embrace the unification of phenomena so apparently opposed as those of the Viennese School and of French Impressionism.

Offline JSC

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Re: Boulez-o-thon
« Reply #4 on: September 27, 2011, 09:46:21 am »
I'd also like to know what people think about the issue of whether Boulez's conducting career has taken too much time away from his composing.
For what it's worth: I'm more of an admirer of Boulez as a conductor than as a composer, so I guess my answer is no, although if his conducting activities hadn't taken off in the way they did, perhaps his music would have retained (what I see as the) structural ingenuity and expressive originality of Le marteau sans maître rather than becoming increasingly long-winded and decorative.
That's more or less identical to my own feelings on the subject.

I think there's a further issue (much as I admire his conducting) as to whether his influence as a conductor and programmer has been primarily for the good. That's a question I'm less sure about; I do think he's stopped some good music from being performed ... No doubt Oliver will be along shortly to say that that's inevitable and not blameworthy, which I suppose is true, but I still think it's relevant, especially if we're considering what the musical landscape would have looked like if Boulez had composed more and conducted less - paradoxically it may have meant there'd be a stronger Boulez oeuvre but a less artificially cordoned-off and venerated one.

That other r3ok favourite Adorno makes much of Mahler's conducting as a form of alienated labour, taking him away from his 'proper' work of composition (although he also says that Mahler's experience as a conductor is a highly significant factor in the music, often against the grain). Did Boulez ever have any financial need to conduct?
I'm not aware of it if so, but it's an interesting question. I've tended to assume that his conducting activities in more recent years have been a cover for the composing he knows he wouldn't have got round to anyway, but that doesn't really explain why he started doing all that international conducting, back in the 60s and 70s (or maybe it does).

I thought I'd read A Musical Physiognomy, but I don't remember those comments about Mahler's conducting activities at all! :-\ Boulez says somewhere that the risk for a composer who conducts is that his orchestral music turns into an exercise in what's possible; that he gets to know conducting and orchestration so well that he never writes impossible things and leaves it to the players/conductor to make them possible. I suppose the attempt to counteract that is what you mean (what Adorno means) by "against the grain"-ness?

Incidentally, "open-ended structures and mania for revision" (I know it's not your phrase, Simon!) seems to obscure rather than clarify a significant issue, which is that at some point Boulez's interest in openendedness seems to flip over into an interest in perfecting an (albeit in some cases almost endlessly deferred) final text. Revision as a multiplication of versions isn't quite what he's up to these days, is it? The revisions now replace what went before, which is very different from the Third Sonata-period open form aesthetic and only quite superficially relatable to it.
« Last Edit: September 27, 2011, 11:21:50 am by JSC »
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Selva Oscura

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Re: Boulez-o-thon
« Reply #5 on: September 27, 2011, 10:19:55 am »
whether his influence as a conductor and programmer has been primarily for the good is a slightly different question
Indeed. When I said I was an admirer of Boulez as a conductor I was thinking primarily of his work on Mahler, Wagner, Debussy, the Second Viennese School and so on, and his work with the Domaine Musical, rather than the matters we discussed on another thread (which I can't find my way to) a little while ago.

Offline guidolibido

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Re: Boulez-o-thon
« Reply #6 on: September 27, 2011, 12:08:58 pm »
That other r3ok favourite Adorno makes much of Mahler's conducting as a form of alienated labour, taking him away from his 'proper' work of composition (although he also says that Mahler's experience as a conductor is a highly significant factor in the music, often against the grain). Did Boulez ever have any financial need to conduct?


What he said to me was that he started conducting because "he was the only conductor he could afford" - i.e. for the performances he wished to mount at the time (40s/50s), and that he simply learnt on the job. He was also fairly clear that he started conducting more traditional repertoire not for money as such but to project a view of musical history in which his own musical compositions would be understood to play a meaningful part.

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Offline martle

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Re: Boulez-o-thon
« Reply #7 on: September 27, 2011, 10:03:50 pm »
He was also fairly clear that he started conducting more traditional repertoire not for money as such but to project a view of musical history in which his own musical compositions would be understood to play a meaningful part.

Blimey! That needs unpacking a bit. You mean he shapes his stonking performance of (say) The House of the Dead in such a way as to make Structures 1a seem like a natural piece of the musical-historical jigsaw??
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Offline evanj

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Re: Boulez-o-thon
« Reply #8 on: September 27, 2011, 10:22:54 pm »
He was also fairly clear that he started conducting more traditional repertoire not for money as such but to project a view of musical history in which his own musical compositions would be understood to play a meaningful part.

Blimey! That needs unpacking a bit. You mean he shapes his stonking performance of (say) The House of the Dead in such a way as to make Structures 1a seem like a natural piece of the musical-historical jigsaw??

That's also one of the more egotistical sentiments I've heard, even from him.

PS. shouldn't it be Boulez-a-thon?

PPS. why does the [/b] tag cancel both bold and italic?!

Offline JSC

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Re: Boulez-o-thon
« Reply #9 on: September 27, 2011, 11:09:12 pm »
He was also fairly clear that he started conducting more traditional repertoire not for money as such but to project a view of musical history in which his own musical compositions would be understood to play a meaningful part.

Blimey! That needs unpacking a bit. You mean he shapes his stonking performance of (say) The House of the Dead in such a way as to make Structures 1a seem like a natural piece of the musical-historical jigsaw??
I assumed the emphasis was on 'started conducting in order to ...'. (And he certainly wasn't conducting Janacek back then. :D)

I agree though, it's a fairly astonishing statement. And remarkable if that really was his initial motivation that he ended up becoming such a good conductor ("good" judged in terms other than his success in projecting a view of musical history!).

PS. shouldn't it be Boulez-a-thon?

PPS. why does the
tag cancel both bold and italic?!
Hmm ... very odd ...
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Offline marbleflugel

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Re: Boulez-o-thon
« Reply #10 on: September 28, 2011, 12:02:50 am »
The first bit of what GL reports there is sigtnificant I think. I wonder if you would be able to publish the longer transcript somewhere? It looks like you struck up a good rapport. I think what Pete means is more that he's integrating his roles, also maybe having to field a reputation as a bete noire and as a one-man band, as say Berlioz did at times. I think fate cast them in similar positions. I guess the parlando shaping of phrase  you get in his conducting is what gravitates to Janacek etc?
« Last Edit: September 28, 2011, 12:06:28 am by marbleflugel »

Offline JSC

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Re: Boulez-o-thon
« Reply #11 on: September 28, 2011, 01:16:26 am »
I guess the parlando shaping of phrase  you get in his conducting is what gravitates to Janacek etc?
... although he was saying even before his Glagolitic Mass Prom a couple of years ago that Janacek's music was "limited" by its connections with the vernacular, IIRC. ::)
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ambrotia

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Re: Boulez-o-thon
« Reply #12 on: September 28, 2011, 02:22:30 am »
All-up on the composer-conductor/conductor-composer profile I prefer the generosity of the likes of  Esa-Pekka Salonen, Peter Eötvös and Oliver Knussen.
O.K. some of Boulez's contributions both on conducting and (a few) compositions could be regarded as "landmarks", but for giving a sustaining vibrancy to contemporary performance and creative practice I would argue each of the above three have been exemplary - though sure, each would also have their detractors and undoubtedly with some reason, but I would still argue the above three enter far more readily into a true dialogue than Boulez does.

Edit: still askew grammar I suspect  :eyebrow:
« Last Edit: September 28, 2011, 02:45:38 am by ambrotia »

Offline guidolibido

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Re: Boulez-o-thon
« Reply #13 on: September 28, 2011, 03:00:59 pm »
He was also fairly clear that he started conducting more traditional repertoire not for money as such but to project a view of musical history in which his own musical compositions would be understood to play a meaningful part.

Blimey! That needs unpacking a bit. You mean he shapes his stonking performance of (say) The House of the Dead in such a way as to make Structures 1a seem like a natural piece of the musical-historical jigsaw??

Well I don't think he would express it quite so specifically, but I definitely got the sense that the power he began to acquire as a conductor, and therefore to favour certain repertoire, was seen by him as a way of trying to make space for his own tradition. He said he didn't regret the time he had put into it as such, but he would have liked to been able to spend more time composing - a kind of no and yes. 

But he was certainly clear that he started conducting, as happens often nowadays, as a way of guaranteeing performances of his own music, and that of his friends. I think the reason he became so successful is that he projected from the podium the same sense of certainty that came so naturally to him as a musician, and because his powers of listening are pretty unparalleled.  But what he actually does is beat time, rather clearly.
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Offline guidolibido

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Re: Boulez-a-thon
« Reply #14 on: September 28, 2011, 03:02:40 pm »
Due to popular demand, I have changed the name to Boulez-a-thon.

Still have some spare tickets if people are interested.
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