Celebrating Pierre Boulez
continues his reports
from the Salzburg Summer Festival
An important part of this year's Salzburg Summer Festival is the celebration of the ninetieth birthday of Pierre Boulez, one of the most important contemporary composers and conductors, as well as the creator of IRCAM, the French institution for musical research, especially in electronic composing and playing. IRCAM has, no doubt, surpassedDarmstadt as the major European center of musical innovation.
Nine concerts are devoted to Boulez throughout the Festival. I was in theaudience for two of them, and a third (on 8 August 2015) was a repeat of the concert I listened to in Ravenna on 7 June (An Imperial Festival, 11 June, 2015): in the main concert hall of the Mozarteum, Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich offered a three hour marathon of Boulez's entire piano music, from the Douze Notations and the first twoSonatas of the nineteen forties to Une page d'éphéméride and Structuresfrom the first few years of the twenty-first century. It was an engrossing and tantalizing experience.
On 30 July 2015, in the very special Felsenreitschule, the Vienna ORFRadio Symphonieorchester, conducted by Cornelius Meister, played Boulez's Rituel in memoriam di Bruno Maderna pour orchestra en huit groupes, the first of the series. The young conductor (aged thirty-five) handled the very complex score very well from memory: his lectern, spectacularly set on a platform in the middle of the orchestra seats, was empty. The Rituel is a fifty minute funeral march based on a seven notemelody, introduced by the group of oboes and then repeated, withvariations, by the other seven groups. Four of the eight groups are on the stage. The other four are on special platforms or balconies set in the Felsenreitschule so as to create a stereophonic effect. In line with the Festival's emphasis on differences and inequalities, the meaning is that these differences and inequalities terminate with the end of the humanadventure for each of us. This is quite in tune with the second part of the concert: Mahler's first symphony, which in one of the movements recalls the death of a woodcutter. The audience was enthusiastic for both Ritueland Mahler's first symphony.
The basic theme of the Festival was also the core of the 31 July 2015 concert in the Kollegienkirche, the Salzburg University Church. Sylvain Cambreling conducted Klangforum Wien in a sample of contemporary andtwentieth century French music: Couleurs de la Cité Céleste by Olivier Messiaen, Jour, Contre Jour by Gérard Grisey (the creator of 'spectral music'), Vereichnete Spur ('A precarious road') by Matthias Pintscher, andexplosante-fixe by Pierre Boulez. All these works had been premiered between 1963 and 2005. It is interesting to note that both Grisey and Boulez studied with Messiaen. Pintscher, the evening's only non Frenchcomposer, was a pupil of Grisey and Boulez. Thus, the concert provided a good overview of French contemporary music. However, there were two shortcomings: the Kollegienkirche does not have a very good acoustic, and the program was excessively long. The Kollegienkirche was very full at the beginning of the evening (with quite a few youngsters) but two and a half hours later (with only short intermissions) a few rows at the back of the church (where the acoustic is less satisfactory) were empty.
The duration (three hours) was also a problem of the 1 August 2015 concert by world famous pianist Grigory Sokolov, in the Grosses Festpielhaus, an auditorium and opera house seating an audience of some three thousand. The program included Bach's Partita No 1, BWV 825, Beethoven's Piano Sonata No 7, and two Schubert works: the Piano Sonata, Op Posth 143, D 784, and Sechs Moments musicaux, Op 94, D 780. Sokolov received acclamation and requests for encores. Thus, he added seven encores from his repertory. As a result, the concert (which started at 9pm — quite late in Austria) ended well after midnight. Some of the enthusiastic audience had meanwhile disappeared.