The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California on May 17, 1970 · Page 429
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The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California · Page 429

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Sunday, May 17, 1970
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Music Pierre Boulez The Success Story of a Noncampaigner BY PAUL HUME Pierre Boulez returns to Southern California this month to conduct the final program of the Los Angeles Philharonie's Contempo 70 series (May 31) and oversee the Ojai Festival (June 5-7). Hume, music critic of the Washington Post, wrote these impressions of Boulez after observing the maestro at work with the Cleveland Orchestra. Watching Pierre Boulez conduct a great orchestra and talking to Pierre Boulez about the world of music provide more than enough clues about the wisdom and imagination of the New York Philharmonic's board of directors in naming the 44-year-old Frenchman to succeed Leonard Bernstein as music director. Like Bernstein and Gustav Mahler, among his predecessors on the New York podium, Boulez is a composer. He is also a pianist whose gifts are at least as impressive as Bernstein's considerable gifts. His named is pronounced "boo-lez" to rhyme with "says," but if you ask him why, he smiles and says, "I don't know." When Bernstein announced that he would retire from the juicy New York spot at the end of the 1968-69 season, ambitious conductors began to mount campaigns to get one of the music world's most prestigious assignments. Boulez did not campaign at alL He was not even accorded the dubious distinction of being included among those Life magazine called "a portfolio of young comers," one of whom was said to be a sure thing for the Philharmonic post These included Claudio Abbado, Colin Davis, Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, Seiji Ozawa, Istvan Kertesz and Thomas Schippers. After the Philharmonic board considered several possibilities, Boulez simply proved to be "the first man to whom the post was actually offered," according to board chairman David M. Reiser. Boulez took two months to think about the job before he finally agreed to take on what some people who should know think is the most demanding conducting post in the world. Search for Solutions In the formal statement he issued when he said "yes" to the Philharmonic's proposal, Boulez also explained his view of the role of the symphony orchestra today. "To work in a city as important as New York and with an orchestra of such stature will make it possible for me to approach from a new angle the problems which the development of today's musical life poses. "I hope that this collaboration will give us the opportunity to bring creators and interpreters together in a joint search for solutions," he added. Pierre Boulez does not seem like a man who contains elements of an enfant terrible composer, yet he is not only the foremost French composer of his generation, but one whom Henry Pleasants recently thought dangerous enough to use in the title of an unconvincing magazine article called "Who's Afraid of Pierre Boulez?" Bom on March 26, 1025, in the Loire Valley city of Montorison, Boulez studied mathematics and engineering in the schools of Saint-Etienne and Lyons before he made it to the famous Paris conservatoire where he worked with Olivier Messiaen. I visited with Boulez while he was working as guest conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra. At that time, Boulez expanded on his views of the role of the modern orchestra. "A symphony orchestra is not a delicatessen where 3-ou can get some of this and some of that," he said. "There should be a planned program." Boulez speaks English with complete facility. His slight accent is a charming touch that can only compound the social havoc this attractive bachelor is bound to create when he arrives on the New York scene. Not since the days of Dimitri Mitropoulos has the Philharmonic had an unmarried music director. Boulez at 44 is completely oriented toward young people. "I am going to conduct both the pops concerts in New York and at the Proms in London. These are important concerts and they., have younger audiences." The day we talked about music was one that would have floored many conductors, few of whom would have taken its changing demands with the unruffled cool that stems from Boulez's calm temperament It was a Saturday that began when the renowned leader of major orchestras on two continents drove his rented car 25 miles through the rural towns that dot northern Ohio to a 9 a.m. assignment on the campus of Kent State. Here, as part of his work as guest conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, Boulez spent three solid hours working with five student, players on Karlheinz Stockhausen's "Zeitmasse." Scored for oboe, flute, English horn, clarinet and bassoon, the music is a fiendishly complicated essay in tempos. Its slow passages go at a rate determined purely by the breath capacity of the player, who has to perform a particular series of notes on a single breath. Stockhausen is hard enough for the best of pros. For college players, it can be a devastating experience to learn and prepare. And Stockhausen was far from all. The day before, the students had spent the same amount of time in rehearsing, with Boulez, the Berg chamber concerto for piano, violin, and chamber orchestra. But the lithe, friendly conductor showed such patience and, when it was precisely right, such fine humor that he drew results from his young students that would amaze many. At noon it was back in the American car, about which Boulez was less than enthusiastic, except for its air-conditioning which he called "very relaxing." At lunch, one of the many differences between Boulez and, for example, Herbert von Karajan occurred to me. Whereas Karajan had said, when we first met, "I hope to heaven we are not talking about music," Boulez's conversation was all about music "It is the music director of an orchestra wh is vital today," he pointed out "He must have a program. And then he must have, as his guest conductors, great conductors who will have something of the same view of programs. "When I am conductor of the New York Philharmonic and the BBC in London" (the two assignments begin at the same time, fall 1971) "then I will do absolutely no guest conducting. Then the work will not be too much. Seven hours to fly from London to New York is the same time it takes on the train from Baden-Baden to Hamburg." What about recordings, which are so vital a part of the lives of both orchestras, and music lovers as well? "While I never believe that records take the place of live music, I am, of course, very interested in them. Since both of these orchestras record for the same company, CBS, what I record with each one will depend on programs and costs." Boulez is also a composer and I asked about his own music as well as that of other men. "As conductor of the Philharmonic and the BBC, I will have four months a year to work on my own music. Even this summer, when I am finished here, I will do one guest appearance with the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood. I am going to work on my "Improvisation Sur Mallarmfi," to expand it for an orchestra of 70 pieces." The improvisation is a work Boulez wrote a little mm BOULEZ: A NEW ANGLE over a decade ago, scoring it for chamber orchestra. Like all of his music, it is composed according to the 12-tone system about which Boulez has written, "It is not devilry but only the most ordinary common sense which makes me say that, since the discoveries made by the Viennese, all composition other than 12-tone is useless. The 12-tone system has been assimilated. Now it must be expanded. Among his other notable compositions are three piano sonatas, a flute sonatine, "Pli Selon Pli," and, perhaps the best known of all, "Marteau Sans Mai-tre, or "The Hammer Without a Master, which is recorded on Odyssey 32160154. His cantata, Le Soleil Des Eaux," for soprano and chamber orchestra, is also recorded on Angel 36295. In style, Boulez's music, built on Schoenberg's serial system, is in the manner of Webern in intensive exploration, into exquisitely minute gradations of timbre.-The vocal lines move in wide leaps, but not without a strong sense of melodic curve. In his staggering second piano sonata, he has achieved a significant milestone in post-Schoenbergian writing for the keyboard. But in his orchestral programs, Boulez must seem very reassuring to those who do not yet want to listen to quantities of music of too recent vintage. .. r?V His manner with the -expert Cleveland Orchestra was low-keyed, though no detail escaped his acute perception. He and pianist Grant Johannesen spent no more than 10 minutes in a discussion of the concerto, yet they sailed through it without, a single hitch. Again showing his complete lack of temperamental display, Boulez at first ignored and then merely smiled at some offstage noises that became increasingly intrusive during the final quiet pages of the Beethoven slow movement. While a musician rushed backstage to locate and silence an offending tuba player who was warming up for Debussy, Boulez continued to direct the music to its proper, serene closing. Many of his more famous colleagues would have blown their stacks, left the stage in a huff and demanded all kinds of apologies. Boulez is, according to the testimony of many who have made music with him, a musicians' musician. The newly appointed conccrtmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra, Daniel Majeske, who has played for Boulez in the several seasons he has guested in Cleveland, raves about him. So do soloists he has accompanied, both instrumentalists and singers. His undemonstrative manner on the platform is going to be a vast change for New York. Gone is the pelvic twist that went with Bernstein's Stravinsky. No more will the Philharmonic's music director fling his arms wide to the heavens at the emotional heights of a Mahler symphony, though Stravinsky and Mahler will both be on Boulez's programs. Without a baton, but happy to have the score in front of him, quiet in his gestures, but with every note and nuance in place, Boulez looks like a man who will maintain the New York Philharmonic one of the world's toughest aggregations of orchestral players at its own best. There is no higher.

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