Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Hommage à Pierre Boulez, Philharmonie de Paris

Hommage à Pierre Boulez at the Philharmonie in Paris, live last night, now online HERE. Though there are live performances, this is much more than a concert. There are readings from Boulez's writing, not only on music but on philosophy and the arts in general.  Boulez was a natural communicator: someone who read many of his works, not only the books but articles, etc, said that Boulez was a true intellectual, a man whose mind ranged over many disciplines, always analysing, questioning and developing original perspectives. We know Boulez the composer, the conductor, the teacher, the arts policy visionary, but Boulez as thinker is yet to be fully appreciated.  There's even a reading from one of his books on Paul Klee, whose work Boulez collected. Think about it. In Klee's paintings cells multiply in myriad shades and hues forming patterns and layers of colour and light. From The Impressionists to Debussy, from Klee to Boulez.....

There are also clips from the archives: interviews in which Boulez talks about Messiaen, René Char  and others. At  1.26, a joyous masterclass which shows how Boulez interacted with people on a personal level.  That's exactly what he was like, totally sincere and down to earth.  At a private party in Paris a few years ago, there was a performance of a difficult new work which required extreme technique from the soloist, who was very young. Imagine how he must have felt, playing in front of an auience of less than 100, with Boulez as guest of honour in the front row.  Later, I chatted with the young player in a curtained alcove off the main room. Then along comes Boulez, and quietly congratulates the young player, encouraging him and giving support. No witnesses, no cameras: total sincerity. After that you could have scraped the player off the floor.

What comes over well in this tribute is a very palpable sense of personal loss. Most of the people here knew Boulez in some personal capacity. Not for them the nasty myths so many seem compelled to repeat. Thousands may want to believe the world was created in exactly 7 days,  but that doesn't make it true. Indeed, the hate directed at Boulez is a measure of his genius.  Mediocrity can't cope with true originality.

That the homage takes place in the Philharmonie de Paris is also significant. It is probably the greatest concert hall in the world, now, the pinnacle by which all others may be measured. It's more than the ulltimate performance space. It's a cité de la musique, supporting many activities including IRCAM, music schools, and a home to key orchestras, from the Orchestre de Paris to Les Arts Florissants to Ensemble Intercontemporain, which PB founded.  The Philharmonie, stands for excellence. If excellence is cereberal and elitist: so be it.  Boulez's legacy won't be measured in terms of those who copy him, but in those who dream like he did.  In Paris until end June, there's an exhibition about his life and works.

If the film is choppy, I think that reflects what the experience must have been like live. There would have been gaps in the performance to change the stage and show the video clips. But notice - no talking heads, no "experts". Boulez himself speaks ,through  his own words and music.

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