PIERRE BOULEZ AND THE LUCERNE FESTIVAL ACADEMY: INHERITING THE FUTURE OF MUSIC

This two hour plus dvd of the 85 year old Boulez at the Lucerne Festival Academy is well filled. Documentary footage of master classes, rehearsals and spoken intros from Boulez are mixed with performance footage of Debussy’s cubist “Jeux,” Boulez’ own “Notations,” and “Repons,” (we desperately need a film of the full performance) Stravinsky’s “Rite,” Stockhausen’s ‘Gruppen,” and a student composition. This serves as an excellent primary introduction to Boulez the teacher and Boulez the communicator. He clearly and rightfully has the intense respect of his students, whom he (sometimes humorously) interacts with, giving lie to the silly myth that he is merely a stuffed-shirt academic. The students at Lucerne are, indeed, inheriting a lifetime’s worth of aesthetic dedication.

The filmmakers follow Boulez’ cue, structuring the film itself with commendable lucidity and professional visuals. It helps tremendously that the Lucerne summer festival provides beautiful location footage. Although Boulez remains an ambiguous personality, he is devoted to what he loves and, in his advanced years, he remains remarkably active in order to ensure the survival of contemporary music. Only the most jaded viewer will be unimpressed. Equally valuable is some of Boulez’ recollections on peers such as Bruno Maderna.

A delightful and valuable example of music on film that is not only an apt homage to an unquestionably great composer, conductor, and teacher, but also a homage to the younger musicians following the lead of the veteran avant-gardist. Boulez seems in no hurry to slow down and we can only hope that he will have many active years ahead of him.

*review from 2012.  Pierre Boulez died, at the age of 90, in January 2016. This was one of the final filmed documents of his work.

RIP PIERRE BOULEZ

Very sad news of Pierre Boulez’ death came today as I was in the middle of revisiting, reinterpreting, and working on a series of paintings from action sketches I made during his concerts. I attended more Boulez concerts than any other musician. The last time I saw him was in 2009, conducting Edgar Varèse and Elliott Carter.The first paintings I did (from literally hundreds of sketches) came from two concerts: His Chicago Mahler 7th in 1994 and another Chicago concert (1999), which included his own “Sur Incises,” and the music of Luciano Berio and Arnold Schoenberg. In between, I saw him conduct the music of Bela Bartok, Gustav Mahler, Augusta Read Thomas, Claude Debussy, Alban Berg, Richard Wagner, Anton Bruckner, and Maurice Ravel, but I was never more excited than when he performed his own music. I will never forget the performance of his own “12 Notations.” Boulez introduced me to Hugues Dufourt, Brian Ferneyhough, Xenakis, Luigi Nono, Messiaen, Ligeti, Birtwistle, Stockhausen, Frank Zaappa, and countless others. I have long took to heart something he said during a talk I attended: “We must be cultural omnivores and raid all the art forms to enhance our own medium.” Boulez talked as much about painting (Kandisnky) and literature (Joyce, Kafka, and Artaud) as he did music. Listening to him talk and make music was an electric experience. He made avant-garde music fun and, yes, sexy. When his Ring Cycle (with the late Patrice Chereau) was released on TV (in the 80s) the traditionalists were up in arms. Now, it has rightly become the yardstick, bringing to mind something Boulez said (after he was ‘released” from the NYP) about his role in promoting twentieth century music; “Like a trace of poison in the food, it will take hold.” Breaking my own rule of not posting a work-in-progress, here is a detail of my 2016 oil on canvas “Varese In Chicago, 2009 (Boulez Conducting). RIP Mr. Boulez

Varese In Chicago, 2009 (Boulez conducting). Oil on canvas (in progress) @2016 Alfred Eaker

An Aptly Titled Boulezian Primer

This two hour plus dvd of the 85 year old Boulez at the Lucerne Festival Academy is well filled. Documentary footage of master classes, rehearsals and spoken intros from Boulez are mixed with performance footage of Debussy’s cubist “Jeux,” Boulez’ own “Notations,”and “Repons,” (we desperately need a film of the full performance) , Stravinsky’s “Rite,”Stockhausen’s ‘Gruppen,”and a student composition. This serves as an excellent primary introduction to Boulez the teacher and Boulez the communicator. He clearly and rightfully has the intense respect of his students, whom he (sometimes humorously) interacts with, giving lie to the silly myth that he is merely a stuffed-shirt academic. The students at Lucerne are, indeed, inheriting a lifetime’s worth of aesthetic dedication.

The filmmakers follow Boulez’ cue, structuring the film itself with commendable lucidity and professional visuals. It helps tremendously that the Lucerne summer festival provides beautiful location footage. Although Boulez remains an ambiguous personality, he is devoted to what he loves and, in his advanced years, he remains remarkably active in order to ensure the survival of contemporary music. Only the most jaded viewer will be unimpressed. Equally valuable is some of Boulez’ recollections on peers such as Bruno Madera.

A delightful and valuable example of music on film that is not only an apt homage to an unquestionably great composer, conductor, and teacher, but also a homage to the younger musicians following the lead of the veteran avant-gardist. Boulez seems in no hurry to slow down and we can only hope that he will have many active years ahead of him