From Chicago Sun-Times:
From one maestro to another: Barenboim on Boulez[/b]
March 27, 2005
To celebrate the 80th birthday of Chicago Symphony Orchestra principal guest conductor Pierre Boulez, CSO music director Daniel Barenboim wrote an essay reflecting on his work and musical friendship with the maestro. The essay was inspired by an interview that Barenboim gave to Andrew Patner of WFMT-FM for a program honoring Boulez's birthday (March 26). Following is an excerpt:
How Pierre Boulez and I first came to make music together is a rather long story. I had been invited to play with the Berlin Philharmonic by Wilhelm Furtwangler in 1954, when I was 11 years old. My father declined the invitation, telling Furtwangler that he felt that this was the greatest honor that he could bestow upon me, but that we were a Jewish family that had immigrated to Israel only 1-1/2 years earlier, and that he, my father, felt it was too soon -- a mere nine years after the end of the war -- for our family to go to Germany, which Furtwangler understood and accepted very simply and genuinely. And Furtwangler proceeded to write a letter which opened many doors for me in the 1950s in Europe, and I must say also in America.
Nine years after that, in 1963, I finally decided to go to Germany, and played my first concert in Berlin with the radio orchestra for the American sector, the RIAS Symphony Orchestra, as it was then called. After the concert, I had a visit from Wolfgang Stresemann, who was then general manager of the Berlin Philharmonic. He was very complimentary about my playing of Beethoven's Fifth Piano Concerto and said that he knew that Furtwangler had invited me to play with the Berlin Philharmonic; now that I had decided to come to Germany, would I agree to play with the orchestra?
So I said, yes, of course I would be very happy and honored to do that. This was late in the season, and he said that all of the programs for the next season were already completed. There was only one where the soloist was not yet announced, and this was in a series of music of the 20th century; a young French composer who had started conducting a few years earlier by the name of Pierre Boulez was to conduct the concert and would like to do the Bartok First Piano Concerto. If I wanted to play that, it would be wonderful. And I replied, I don't know the Bartok First Piano Concerto. So I asked for a few days to get the music and look at it. I got the music and I must say, I fell in love with the piece, although it seemed to me then and seems all the more so now, devilishly difficult. But I thought, yes, yes, and I agreed. I have to admit, I had not heard the name, Pierre Boulez, which is no reflection on him but rather on my ignorance. But I was very, very happy and worked very hard, and learned the piece.
A year later, in spring 1964, I played Bartok's First Concerto for the first time with Pierre Boulez. It was an unforgettable experience on many accounts, first of all because I was absolutely fascinated by his musical personality and his way of looking at music in different ways, but also because it was a very difficult program. It had his "Doubles" for Orchestra, Schoenberg's "Music for a film scene," and Stravinsky's Four Etudes for Orchestra -- all works which the orchestra did not know -- and then the Bartok Concerto, which had not been played there since 1926. And this was 1964! So it was a very difficult program. Our rehearsal time was sparse, and I'm sure that Pierre Boulez used his time very economically, but, if I may venture to say so, I think he might have underestimated the difficulty of the Bartok First Piano Concerto, especially in those days. It was not a repertoire piece.
In any event, there was not enough rehearsal time. And so the experience was unforgettable, as I said, on many accounts, one of them being that I felt for the 23 minutes that it takes to play the concerto that I was on the most slippery, uncontrollable ground for what seemed to me like 24 hours, not a few minutes. Anyway, we got through it, and he must have been pleased with me, because very soon after that I had an invitation to play with him again.
And that was the beginning of a very close musical collaboration, and the beginning of a very close and to me very important personal and artistic friendship with him for over 40 years. When I became music director of the Orchestre de Paris in 1974, he had already left Paris to protest against many things over which he disagreed with the culture ministry at the time. And he then convinced the President of France, Georges Pompidou, to build IRCAM, the center for music/acoustic research and coordination in Paris. And in this way, Pompidou persuaded him to come back to Paris.
Boulez conducted in my very first season in Paris. I must say it was one of the most wonderful things one could imagine to have Pierre Boulez on the scene -- he conducted not only when he was invited to conduct, but often he very kindly jumped in when there were cancellations. It was a great luxury, and we shared many of our views about music and especially about the role of contemporary music. So it was heartwarming and a source of great artistic support to me. And therefore when I came to Chicago as music director, he was the first person I invited as a guest conductor, and the relation between him and the musicians of the orchestra was so good and so fruitful that I asked him whether he would become principal guest conductor. And the rest is history.
Boulez's works always manage to give you the maximum possibilities with the material involved. In other words, if he has a choice between writing something very simply or making it more complex but more colorful and more interesting, then of course he would choose the latter. He is not of the school that believes that the last stroke a composer has to put on his music is the stroke that brings the work to its utmost simplicity. I don't think he even thinks of that; it's of no interest to him whatsoever. What is of greater concern to him is how to make these materials as interesting as possible, and if it means making them more complex, then he will do so.
He also has, of course, the most imaginative sense of orchestration, so that when you get to the orchestral pieces like "Notations," even people who have difficulty relating to the musical idiom are struck by the multitude of orchestral colors. The aspect of color orchestration is an integral part of his musical ideas. I'm sure he imagines the material in an abstract way as a row of notes, but immediately thereafter, I suspect -- and this is pure speculation on my part -- he immediately attaches some kind of orchestral color to it. It's not something that is put on as the whipped cream on the cake. It's part of the cake.
He was also one of the first musicians who understood the French music of the early part of the 20th century, primarily Debussy and Ravel -- and especially Debussy, I must say -- as something more than just color. It has depth, articulation. He found the real richness of Debussy's idiom in so many different ways. Some composers are fortunate in that they have inspired a history of performance from many angles. Debussy, to this day, has had very few advocates, and at the beginning, the greatest advocate of Debussy's music on the piano was Walter Gieseking, who played it really very beautifully, but in a completely one-dimensional way. Everything is ethereal; everything is a wash of colour. And suddenly came Pierre Boulez with such a sense of structure. And he gave not only wonderful performances of Debussy's music, but he gave a very clear direction towards understanding the depth of this music.
I remember Boulez coming to a concert of Bruckner's Eighth, which I conducted in Paris, and he said oh, this music is so simplistic. And I said, but the slow movement should provide interest for you with rhythms which go two against three. Oh, he said, that was done much earlier and much better by Wagner in the second act of "Tristan." And with that sentence, he finished off Bruckner.
But I must say that 10 years later or so, he showed his greatness and intelligence by assimilating a lot of things which he might not have seen before. And this is a wonderful lesson for us, because often there are people who have very clear ideas and causes to fight for, and they hold on to them and are immovable. And that is very courageous and very laudable, actually.
But there's one step even higher than that, and this is what Boulez represents to me. He knows that certain decisions or opinions that he arrives at are linked to a certain age and to a certain time. In the 1970s, it was practically necessary for him not to see the beauties in Bruckner, because he was fighting causes which were to him much more important, and rightly so.
And those causes not only demanded his time, but his mind demanded his concentration on those causes, which were musically from a totally different planet than Bruckner. But after he went through that stage, he could then have an open mind for the beauties of this other type of music.
Although Pierre Boulez is a man full of seeming contradictions and paradoxes, in fact he is not. There's nothing contradictory about his opinions or about his actions, but rather he has a sense of the necessary clarity of thought that he needs at a given moment. When that moment is over, he is willing and able to examine those thoughts at another time and in another context, and this is a very rare quality. Let's hope that he will be with us for a very long time and will continue to give us wonderful music both as a composer and conductor.