A quick glance at this stage - what else but Pierre Boulez sur Incises, with Ensemble Intercontemporain, the orchestra he founded, and Matthias Pintscher, at the Barbican Hall, London, 28tth April 2015, part of the continuing Barbican Boulez at 90 celebrations. This photo (courtesy Ensemble Intercontemporain) shows the symmetry that underpins so much of Boulez's work. From strong structural foundations, the music bursts forth arising, ever fresh and organic. That's why Boulez rewrites and revises: ideas don't evaporate with the last stroke of the pen, but grow and proliferate. Uncreative folk will never understand ! This concert also showed how Boulez's creative thrust continues to thrive, inspiring younger composers. Boulez's legacy lies in Ensemble Intercontemporain, through IRCAM, through the new Philharmonie de Paris and through the many artists who've absorbed the spirit of his music.
But first, Claude Debussy, to whom Boulez has paid so much hommage. Sophie Cherrier was the soloist in Syrinx (1913), a particular Boulez favourite.. It's exquisite, the plaintive, seductive sounds of the flute rising from silence, as if probing and searching the universe. High, delicate Pan-pipes, yet strong and confident. It felt as though we were in the Garden of Eden, before the fall. This miniature segued into Boulez's Mémoriale (....explosante-fixe...Originel). From a simple basic sequence of notes, the piece grows in the interaction between flautist and small ensemble.
Yann Robin's Asymétriades (2014), premiered last year by Ensemble Intercontemporain, continued the concept of explosion. There isn't much in the repertoire that showcases the double bass to this extent. Nicolas Crosse demonstrated a dazzling array of bowings, fingerings and other techniques so spectacular that the sheer audacity of his playing mesmerized. Virtuoso pieces like this can sometimes overwhelm the rest of the music ( I'm thinking of Unsuk Chin's Cello Concerto) but there's so much energy and inventiveness in Asymétriades that it could stand on its own merits as an invigorating, joyous jaunt. Serious music could do with more good humour!
The first chords of Matthias Pintscher's Choc (Monumento IV) evoked Boulez so strongly that perhaps this early work, written when Pinstcher was 25, was chosen as a memorial to Boulez, While Robin's Asymétriades rushes along like a cheerful, madcap romp, Pintscher's Choc contrasts shock with sudden, tense breaks, to make listeners listen.
Highlight of the evening, though, was Boulez sur Incises. Ensemble Intercontemporain was founded by Boulez to specialize in new music, so they have the idiom as second nature. This was easily the best performance of anything so far in this current Boulez series - sharp, vivid, no falling off or smoothing out (unlike Fischer's Pli selon Pli with the BBC SO, reviewed here) From this basic formal structure - three harps, three pianos, three percussion parts create elaborate maze-like patterns that proliferate, fragment and reconstitute. The percussion parts include marimba, vibraphone, tubular bells and glockenspeil, so the soundscape is luminous, shimmering with light and perpetual motion. As always, Paul Griffiths puts things like a poet. "The effect is of a piano hurtling through a hall of mirrors which copy oir distort its sound. Or perhsps it is a maze of mirrors, since every so often the tumult comes to an end, the tempo slows, and the fast figurations fall apart again, only for the music, after a while, to speed off again in another direction".