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Boulez on Conducting: Conversation with Cecile Gilly Hardcover – 2 Oct 2003


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One of the most gifted and challenging composers of our time, Pierre Boulez (b. 1925) has achieved equal status as a conductor, notably of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and New York Philharmonic, and at Bayreuth. He is the founder and director of the world-renowned IRCAM Institute in Paris and of the associated Ensemble Intercontemporain.

Richard Stokes has published books on German, French and Spanish song, and his singing translations of Berg's Wozzeck and Lulu, and Wagner's Parsifal have met with critical acclaim. He collaborated with Alfred Brendel on his volume of poems, One Finger Too Many (Faber) and, more recently, The Veil of Order (Faber).

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
wonderful sets of questions,more on point than previous 8 Aug. 2005
By scarecrow - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"I began composing the works, and then found the technique to conduct them"
Boulez's activism, his affinity for modernity always had a content, an aspect of directedness, of finding/locating the shortest distance between two points. And Cecile Gilly's questions here seem commonplace yet they excite quite provocative answers. Of course one must see a work in rehearsal with Boulez in order to find this "sortest distance" ourselves, as those available with his own"Notations" being prepared. But short of that. . .
Here the interviews have a chronology,and we learn for Boulez with his youthful beginnings in the Fifties it engaged the presentation of the best possible performance of the products of modernity,of activism as well for the cause of the new.He speaks here of his learning processes acquired/formulated quite directly in attendance of rehearsals of Hans Rosbaud and Roger Desormiere, later Otto Klemperer in his last years in London. Klemperer actually phoned Boulez requesting permission to attend a Boulez rehearsal of his works.Boulez's humanism is wonderful to think about that he openly admits he had no orchestral technique of writing effectively for the orchestra during the earlier part of this career. Now he has the maturity,experience and retrospection to re-vise these works, as the "Le Visage Nuptial" and "Les Soliel Des Eaux". These were works that had an "overdetermined" polyphony.
We encounter these problems today in learning the modernist language for there still is a shortage of interpreters of the New.The last part here is "Transmitting knowledge" which is really the content of conducting and learning music as well. There is a section on young conductors where the skills during a Master Class become readily apparent. Boulez says, young conductors are first and foremost are concerned with themselves, not the work, their own means and work habits. Go after the problems of the work,appreciate the timbre and the structure, Why is it unique and interesting? not how one will interpret it.
For conducting we know that there was no work within the modernist repertoire that Boulez did not dare to try.This is how he claimed territory,and acquired technique. No others cared to have this affinity for the new for the Star-System of conductors was in place throughout the Fifties and Sixties...at least in the USA.But there is a modest appraisal of time and place that emerges here in these interviews, that of problems of performance,the technique of it, of balance of orchestral forces and timbre. Boulez says here that most conductors don't have a deep appreciation for the timbre of things, of the music, more the gesture,its effect on the populace,and music is finding solutions of interpretation of projecting timbre, sound colours , and finding them takes time and emerges only within a process of change and contemplation. The first performances of Alban Berg's "Wozzeck" for example in Paris, where some 31 rehearsals were requested by Boulez, or Debussy's "Pelleas et Melisande",the repertoire of Webern, Schoenberg, and Stravinsky.On Schoenberg and the problems there Boulez says(to paraphrase) yes Schoenberg had known the effects of timbre, but in his music it is more a function of the motive, where it goes and its demise within the orchestra. Whereas Stravinsky loved sound, just to hear it,regardless of where it went.
Other high points discussed here was Wagner's "Parsifal", then the "Ring" itself with Patrick Chereau in the Mid-Seventies. Boulez relates a story of Klemperer asked Boulez(referring to Parsifal)"How do you deal with all this religiousness? and Boulez's response was "He(I) ignore it, and deal with pure technique, the long sheaths of time,slow tempi,and the most mature work within Wagner's oeuvre.Here Cecile Gilly requests basic necessities, but these interviews are more squarely on target, more technical in content on conducting than ones I've read previously. "Should a conductor be a composer?", she asks, and where,who have been successful composer-conductors?. or "What were your artistic aims at that time? What sort of programmes did you wish to conduct?, and a little later, "Were these concerts well attended?
There are also a traversing over quite traditional materials, as Berlioz the great orchestrator,19th Century music, the evolution of the orcehstra and Wagner as composer and conductor himself. But Boulez has wonderful things to say as " Orchestral imagination is a particular gift."Again the simplicity is misleading,for there are those genius composers who really could not orchestrate as Brahms,Chopin, Mussorgsky,Schumann,Scriabin.However Berlioz, had other shortcomings, ones of viable structure, of form in music becoming completely dependant on a narrative,yet still relatively naive in his approach, he founded the modern sounding orchestra with "Symphonie fantastique". The "voicings" of chords for example are all conmmonplace root position triads, yet when the contrabasses pluck these"commonplace" chords they are more percussive and brilliant sounding within the "acoustical illusion" of the orchestra.

Boulez in his terse, yet expansive when needed answers, always places the materials, the "musical text" as he refers to it, within a context. One example was the largesse of amplitude of the growing Romantic orchestra, the sound of the overbearing augmentation of the orchestra, due to larger halls, where Beethoven's philosophy(in the last years of the 19th Century) needed Tubas in order to not make flimsy and miniturize the content of his explosive 'Symphonies', Even Mahler got in on this aesthetic of filling the stage with persona,to no great end actually. For the music,not its conception does not change only those who perform and listen to it,they have needs and requirements for realizations that changes.

There are also many questions on the founding of IRCAM and the Ensemble Intercontemporain, and the administrative problems encountered. Boulez usually had resolved one problem with the experience(s) from another place. Like the "teaching" aspect of IRCAM came from his early experiences with Georg Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra, where Szell rendered a highly professional ensemble from what was rather mediocre in performance abilities as an ensemble. And Boulez says here you need to get an ensemble to think the same,explain things to them, each musician is quite accomplished on their own, they know their instrument, but then that means very little when placed within the context of learning a new work for example, or the problems of balance and listening as in Berg's "Three Pieces for Orchestra".
Boulez's creative work is discussed as well and we learn is founded in certain aspects on tradition,(something he would never have admitted in the Fifties,again the Boulez aesthetic is/was formulated in process of acquistion) as Wagner and the projection of "acoustical illusion" this in relation to Boulez's orchestral realizations of "Notations" 12 youthful piano solos,use as "seeds" for really ;etudes; for orchestra.
My favorite moments here are those under "Illusions and kaleidoscopes",Gilly askes, "In explosante-fixe/. . . . you tried in particualr to develop instrumental transformations of sound", and Boulez's response was "Yes, it is a kind of puzzle with musical segments that alternates more or less rapidly and ina more or less predicatable manner." Then another question." You attempt to short-circuit perception". Quite interesting set of interviews here. Those prior seemed too general much of the time, although those with Rocco di Petri those where on composition more than conducting, and those with Jean Vermeil from the Seventies was of a general traversing over points in Boulez entire career,less on technical sets of problematics.Those of Celestine Deliege were from the Sixties, although quite more on compositions.
Me and Boulez 7 Mar. 2011
By Thomas Schippers - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Excellent book about Boulez although a lot in it not really related to conducting. If you like Boulez, it's a winner...
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