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Volume 8 Issue 3 - November 2002

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COVER STORY " Dare to

COVER STORY " Dare to forget" Pierre Boulez interviewed by Paul Steenhuisen STEENHUISEN: Your anaiysis of music invariably informs your interpretations as a conductor. How does your work as a conductor influence your compos- . ing? BOULEZ: In tWo ways. First, I learned the practicalities of instrumental playing directly. It gave me the opportunity to use instrumental possibilities much better than before, because once you know something, you can ·· . dare more. As a result, I did not write any ~re "absurdities".' I · wrote difficult but possible music, with efficiency. Second, it was very influential in my way of conceiving the way · music is perceived. Many things Since bursting onto the intema- you think seem obvious are not tional scene at the end of the' obvious at all. Sometimes there is Second Worl.d War, French-born a very big diffe~ence between what composer Pierre Boulez has you think and what you perceive .. ,remained an influential and · For me, conducting was very controversial figure in contempo- important in the way that I could raty music. Initially taking · study, especially when rehearsing. Schoenberg's dodecaphonic I could study the perception of not methods to the extreme by only my music, but music of other systematizing all parameters of composers. You get to know very music composition, he became an quickly the differences betw.een icon of technical severity. His speculation and perception. additional concentration on conducting the music of Berg, Schoenberg, and Webern did nothing to dispel this reputation - not that he w,as trying io. While continuing to develop as a composer and conductor during his self-imposed exile from France, Boulez authored volumes of polemical essays and analyses, defining his time with both clarity and uncompromising personality, Since then, he has been music director of the New York Philharmonic, founder of IRCAM (Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris), leader of the impeccable Ensemble lnterContemporain, and continues as principal guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony. STEENHUISEN: Do you focus your conducting on works that open up new compositional terrain for you? BOULEZ: I prefer to conduct things that are close to me, not only by the feeling, but in their conception. There is no point in conducting pieces that don't interest me, e'ither for the composer, or myself. STEENHUISEN: I'm interested in your relation to ·the past. You've stated that you don't like explicit references to the past. BOULEZ: I don't like to be buried in the past. I once made the comparison that the past should be as the phoenix. It should bum every day, and be reborn every Having spent a substantial period day. If you are always only in of time composing at IRCAM,. I'm your library, and think only of the doubly aware of his achievements, things that are in your library, you legacy, and demand for the are the example of a culture that is highest artistic level. dying, because you do not dare to Now in the ?" decade of his forget. One of the main privileges intriguing career, Pierre Boulez of being a composer is certainly to visits Toronto this month to · have knowledge, but also to forget receive the prestigious Glenn this knowledge, and to not be Goul.d Prize (November 24). totally squeezed by the past. The past is necessary, because it has been part of your education - you can't really just ig~ore it, but as I have said before, you should be autodidactic by will, and not by · chance. STEENHUISEN: How does tho! reconcile with the faci that you ~pend a great deal of energy performing and maintaining selected repe11oirejrom the past? BOULEZ: Many of the works I played thirty or forty years ago were not perfon:nyd in concerts at that time. I thought it was ,my duty and my privilege also, to make these pieces totally part of the repertoire. When I first conducted the. Variations by Webern; or Berg's Three Pieces, Opus 6, they were practically unknown to most of the orchestras. Also, in 1945/46, when I was young, in Paris I had heard the music I liked, the musk I loved, performed so badly and without any kind of professionalism. People had no idea of the style, about how to communicate with these works; and there was a discrepancy between what you read and what you heard. I· · wanted to be satisfied with the performances, and to make the distance betweenreading and. hearing _as small as possible. STEENHUISEN: More generally, do you think ti/at the maintenance of past music is a hindrance to the development of · music today? BOULEZ: No. You can i>erform music of the past if you are not just a specialist of some period. You have specialists in Baroque music, speciali~ts in Romantic music, specialists in opera, in Italian opera, and so on and so forth. I find specialism · terribly distressing, because they · are compartments in musical life. I like specialists only for surgery and medicine (laughter), but not specialists in music. STEENHUISEN: How do your . influences resonate in your music? BOULEZ: Well, I think I have absorbed quite a lot, but I go to the bottom of things, I'm not stylistically influenced at all. Maybe in my very first works, when I was 20, 2I'years old. At 22, I developed a personal style, without really looking for t:J:iat, but expressing myself, and finding the technical means for it. STEENHUISEN: Woul.d you say you 've absorbed the mechanism rather than the surface? BOULEZ: Not the mechanism exactly, .but the reason . Why, for example, are the last Beethoven quartets conceived as they are? · To . go to the bottom, not only of the style, but the reasons why you are so fascinated by something. You can never explain it totally. There is always a kind of'mystery, and Gott seitdank that it does exist. STEENHUISEN: You identify the period between !950 and 1954 . as the one in which you took serial procedures to the extreme, followed by the development of a much more organic approach. How did the strictness of the method coincide with your imagination? Did you find it confining, or liberating? BOULEZ: ·It was at the same · time confining and liberating. Looking at Schoenberg's method, which was preoccupied only with pitches, I thought (especially given the influence of Messiaen and his rhythmic procedures) 'Why not try to make everything under the same control and order?' At this moment, it was called pointillistic, because we were dealing with point after point after point, and the reunion of point. After a while, I was bored, because you can't only work with separated notes, you can't always only work with number one. It wasn't enougl:). for me, and once I ·had taken the consequences of serialism as far as that, I was aware that anarchy produced · practically the same results. It proved the absurdity of the extrem,e logic, which is equivalent to the absurdity of no logic at all: That was the turning point. STEENHUISEN: What changed after that? BOULEZ: With Le matteau sans riulitre, I began to work with musical objects that I could describe freely. I admired ' Webern for all his strict canonic writing, but also J.S. Bach. Bach also wrote very strictly, but not only - he had another dimension, a kind of free writing. ·For me, that became absolutely necessary, a type of contrast between obligatto writing and totally free writing, under a certain harmonic cpntrol. 6 www.thewholenote.com NovE: mber 1 - December 7 2002

Also, Schoenberg's neoclassic serial music lacks the necessity of a harmonic language. There was no harmonic law. STEENHUISEN: So.you became-interested in harmonic progressions, rather than just chords. · BOULEZ: Yes. I was interested in developing a harmonic language, and I must say this was the influence of Messiaen. He was very much preoccupied with hannonic language and consequence.' I realized I had to focus on the harmonic. Conducting also helped me in this case, because I learned that counterpoint is not something you perceive quickly. On the contrary, the hannonic combinations you hear instantly, even if you can't analyze it. Even without analysis, you can perceive harmony very clearly. STEENHUISEN: In a letter to John Cage, you wrote, "The entire drama of music is the coriflict between the rational and the irrational ". Could you elaborate on this? . BOULEZ: Wnat I tried to find was a rational point of departure, because you cannot work by just improvisfrig, you have to have a linguistic base, some laws, even if they are flexible. Once you have this, you mu~t be open to what happens, so you're not-constantly obliged to have a series of'logical consequences. Sometimes there are accidents, you want to write something that comes to you independently - maybe you've read, or heard something. You have to accept that, and have the possibility of introducing the accidents into your logic. The logic will be partly and lqcally . destroyed, but it will reconstitute itself. This is a kind of organic development that allows things to happen, in a different way than you have conceived them. For me, it's extremely important to have a language that is open at any moment, and not completely closed. *** CONTINUES ON PAGE 18 . .$trauss er Swing Soiree . Saturail!:f Mardi 29, 2003 6:00 pm to 1:00 am GREAT CHAMBER MUSIC DOWNTOWN , , , . \& ·• ''9 L-~ c THE PRAZAK QUARTET leading Czech ensemble Haydn, Janacek, Beethoven Thursday, November 7 at 8:00 p.m. QUATUOR ARTHUR-LEBIANC WITH PIANIST DANG THAI SON Debussy, Ravel, & the Franck Quintet Thursday,_ November 28 at 8:00 p.rn. THE Music TORONTO CHAMBER SOCIETY brings together 4 of Canada's best string players: Annalee Patipatariakoon & Scott St. John, violinists; Roman Borys, cellist, & David Harding, violist. Sup~rstar Can~dian pianist MARC-ANDRE HAMELIN joins them. Sokolovic, Kapustin, Taneyev Tuesday,· December 3 at 8:00 p.m . 'lJine in continenta{ sp{enaour in the wliite marbre 6affroom of tlie .JJLrcaaian Court, 6eautijuffy restorea to turn-oj-tlie-century degance. 'IJance tfie nigfit away witfi 'Viennese waltzes ana po{f(as 6y Sinfonia 'Toronto ana favourite stanaarcls 6y tfie Sizz{in' Swingers 'B'll'Y 'B'E!FO~'E 'fYECE'Jv{'l3'£~25 amf S.91.o/E Tickets before Dec 25, ·s 1 00 after Dec 25 416-499-0403 www.sinfoniatoronto.com www.music-toronto.com S©1~ J_a ne Ma llett Theatre . · , .St. Lawre nce Centre !or the Arts ww11· .st le .com 416-366-7723 • 1-800-708-6754 NEW! order online at www.stlc.com Music TORONTO hosts Composing for a Change This ·unique programme allovvs you to explore your creativity through composing music for The Gryphon Trio. No .n-iusical training needed. Work one-on-one with a professional con'lposer. 0 fee for the programme includes introductoty session with composer and musicians, 4 individual sessions with your composer, fina l session to hear the Gryphon Trio play your work, & a CD of all the p·ieces. For informaticm or to reg i.~ter: 416-214-1660 November 1 - December 7 2002 www.thewholenote.com ---7 (

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