Chicago replaces stricken Boulez with three protégés

Chicago replaces stricken Boulez with three protégés


norman lebrecht

December 21, 2013

Obliged to accept that Pierre Boulez is too infirm to fly over for a February celebration of his music, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has come up with a novel solution. Rather than replace big gun with one of equal calibre, they have picked three sharpshooters from a new generation. Press release below.

boulez swr

CHICAGO— With great regret, Pierre Boulez, the Helen Regenstein Conductor Emeritus of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, has informed the CSO that that he will not be able to come to Chicago to conduct in February 2014 due to health issues. With three young conductors hand-picked by Maestro Boulez to substitute for him, the CSO will proceed with the planned programs—during two subscription weeks, beginning on February 20 and ending onMarch 1, 2014—as a celebration of Boulez’s innovative musicianship and mentorship.

“Pierre Boulez is one of the great revolutionaries in the history of music,” said Riccardo Muti, the CSO’s music director. “It is important to honor Maestro Boulez as a living master, and to ensure that his ideas are communicated to the next generation.”

“Pierre Boulez has served as an inspiration to the musicians of our age not only through his career as a composer and conductor, but with his visionary ideas about the design and presentation of concert programs,” said Martha Gilmer, Vice President for Artistic Planning and Audience Development for the CSO (The Richard and Mary L. Gray Chair).

These two programs, which Boulez originally conceived while in Chicago in 2012, highlight not only large orchestral scores, such as Debussy’s Jeux, but also take the audience on a journey through select miniatures by Igor Stravinsky for various-sized chamber ensembles. According to Gilmer, Boulez has devised specific directions for how each program should be choreographed, and has pre-recorded his own thoughts and insights into the music.

Gilmer said that Boulez had invited three young conductors to join him in Chicago during his residency, to work with him as he prepared the programs. They are CSO Solti Conducting Apprentice Matthew Aucoin, Marcelo Lehningerand Cristian Macelaru. With Boulez now unable to travel to Chicago, the young conductors will substitute for him in the two programs.

“Video projections of Boulez’s insights into the creative concept for each concert program, as well as his thoughts on individual works of music, will be an integral part of the programs,” said Gilmer. “So while Pierre Boulez is not able to come to Chicago, the spirit and soul of what he imagined these weeks to be will be very much present.”

“Even without Pierre Boulez on the podium, the CSO is committed to honoring his approach and responding to the challenge that he has given to us to always imagine new ways to present music and connect with audiences,” addedDeborah F. Rutter, president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association. “These programs are two perfect examples of how we do this.”


  • As far as i know Boulez has not conducted a full performance for two years. I repeat what I’ve stated before – it is a sign of utter cynicism by orchestra managements to continue to “book” him in hopes of boosting ticket sales. He has systematically canceled all performances that have been sold under his name and been replaced by other conductors. He is not going to make a miracle comeback, take my word for it. He is old, frail, almost blind, and should gracefully retire from the conducting profession.

  • PK Miller says:

    And the torch has been passed to a new generation….

    I DONT think Boulez is playing a game or the orchestras are either. I think it’s a lot of wishful thinking, hoping against hope, “Well maybe he’ll be better, maybe he’ll be able to conduct, maybe one last time… Sometimes, one hopes, dare I say, prays for miracles. It’s not unlike the programs Kirsten Flagstad kept proposing to John Culshaw when both knew she was too incapacitated by cancer ever to sing these concerts. Or even Culshaw’s story of the tenor engaged to sing Siegfried in the Decca 1st stereo Ring. He was, it seems, as the immortal concert comedienne, Anna Russell would have put it “All voice and no artistry.” They engaged one of the finest vocal coaches to work w/the guy, again, hoping against hope for months that just maybe the coach could make the tenor into Siegfried despite every succeeding report being grimmer and grimmer.

    I’ve not been a big fan of Maestro Boulez’ work if I still vividly remember an all Stravinsky program he conducted in Boston (I think) that was stunning. I wish him well. As a friend of mine would put it, “Aint none of us getting any younger!”

  • I wish Boulez the man well but Boulez the composer and lecturer has had a very negative effect on composition. Too authoritarian. I heard him say fairly recently at a BBC Prom that he had only recently discovered the music of Janacek! How can that have happened? Too much talk and not enough listening Pierre.

  • From the Cleveland Orchestra website: “Pierre Boulez, who was to have led this week’s concerts, with great regret, is unable to come to Cleveland to conduct his planned concerts in February 2014 due to health issues. Violinist and conductor Nikolai Znaider has graciously agreed to step in with the program listed above.”

  • I have no idea what Mr Kinsella is talking about. Pierre Boulez is one of the great Janácek conductors, whether on recording or in live performance. The Sinfonietta, the Glagolitic Mass, and the opera “From the House of the Dead” staged by the late, lamented Patrice Chéreau, as well as less known works such as the “Defiant” Cappricio for piano and orchestra have been part of M. Boulez’s repertoire for years. If he came to them after the works of Debussy and Schoenberg, so what?

    • Boulez did conduct Janacek at that prom. I am only relating what he said at the interval discussion. Maybe BBC have an archive which can be accessed.

      • 18mebrumaire says:

        Don’t be so literal minded. PB’s Janacek comment is dripping with irony. Try retranslating what he says back into French and you will get some sense of PB’s elegant wit at play.

  • Mark Stratford says:

    ==he had only recently discovered the music of Janacek!

    Wnen PB was conducting CBSO circa 1992/3 he said that only The Diary of one who Disappeared was of interest to him in J’s output.

    But like all of us, he’s at liberty to change his mind.I mean look at Ashkenazy who said in his biog that he wasn’t interested in Mahler and then recently conducted a cycle in Sydney

  • Mark Stratford says:

    and see Peter’s comments from a similar thread last year :

  • It’s interesting that ,so far, nobody has challenged my negative comment on Boulez the composer and lecturer.

    • That comment was just spot on. The ‘contributions’ of Boulez as a composer and as a conductor are greatly exaggerated. This man is seriously lacking in musicality, which is clear to everybody who has seen him conduct. PB thinks that music consists of the notes in the score which have to be reproduced as clearly as possible, while in reality the score is an instruction manual for something quite different: a recreation of a musical vision, and thus, subjective and to be subjectively recreated by the conductor. As a composer, he has given the musical world the idea that music is merely sounds, also here claiming ‘objective standards’, while there is no more subjective art form than serious music. His IRCAM establishment (Institute for the Retrograde Conservation of Abominable Musicians) launched numerous sonic artists imagining themselves to be composers of music, degrading the art form to a quasi-scientific undertaking, opening the doors to people without any real musical innovative talents. PB is a product of postwar nihilism, and the reason that he is fêted as a ‘grand old man’ is that there are fewer and fewer of them – so lesser types will do – and the general erosion of understanding of what music really is.

      • A remarkable contribution , John, brilliantly stated. Because Boulez became such a powerful and influential figure I am certain that he paralysed many talented composers who were cowed into burying their natural expressive instincts and trotted out the formulas to avoid being laughed at by the Boulezians. I attended the UNESCO Rostrum of Composers for many years during the 1970’s and 1980’s and could see and hear the whole disaster unfolding right there before me. It’s a time for healing and renewal in music. A time for composers to listen to their heartbeat and to boldly follow their natural creativity.

      • sixtus says:

        To judge by some of his Mahler recordings, Boulez doesn’t even reproduce the score as printed. His handling of Mahler’s tempo changes are often abysmal, if not missing altogether. This blind spot (sorry) to printed tempo nuances also disfigures many of his most critically acclaimed recordings of the French orchestral repertoire. And, as far as I know, he’s never done the last few bars of Le Sacre du Printemps as printed (to be sure, hardly anybody else has either). As for his much-vaunted orchestral clarity, on his recordings that has been as much a product of the recording engineers as of Boulez himself. I, in fact, value his legacy mostly as a composer of some extraordinarily beautiful music.

  • Mark Stratford says:

    ===It’s interesting that ,so far, nobody has challenged my negative comment

    ===on Boulez the composer and lecturer.

    Generally we don’t feed the trolls, but if you’d feel better maybe you’d like to be specific about what you don’t like in his compositions.

    Let me guess – you don’t like Ferneyhough, Elliott Carter or Stockhausen either ?

    • Stockhausen early piano pieces are magic. Heard Kontarsky brothers live many moons ago. What’s your take on the helicopters string quartet? Now, now , manners please. – no more troll stuff. It only let’s you down. Tell me what you like about Pierre’s music.

      • Warren Cohen says:

        I liked his music much more after hearing him explain the logic of the thematic relations. Then I listened to Pli Selon Pli a few times, and noticed from that experience that most of his music consists of surface decoration over extremely long pedal points. Once I heard it that way, it all made sense, and since then I have found much of music extremely beautiful, but not as the arch-intellectual constructs than he likes to present it as but as decorative art-in this sense, kind of like Sorabji-but often beautiful surfaces of instrumental colour. Thought of this way, his music is actually easy to understand. Really, it is the way you listen that makes all the difference. And I agree with you that he (and others in the same intellectual and academic camp) inhibited composers for many years who could not or would not work in a language that he conceived of as “historically necessary”. I know that because I was one who actually avoided getting a degree in composition even though composing was my first love because I simply could not compose that way, but if wanted to study I would have to write that way! Things got much better shortly after it was too late for me, and today there is far less dogmatism in academic circles, and Boulez himself and many other of the old guard are also far less dogmatic. At some point the ludicrous, actually quite 19th century idea of ‘historical progress in the arts”-which bears an intellectual relation to the thought of Marx and Hegel-has been exposed for the nonsense that it is, and has been largely abandoned.

    • Steve says:

      I’d put Ferneyhough and to a greater extent Stockhausen in a completely different category to Boulez though on the surface there’s common ground.

  • Ed Makowski says:

    I heard Boulez conduct Janacek’s Sinfonietta, with the New York Philharmonic in the 70’s, when he was Music Director. They were planning on recording the piece, but the studio had no heat that day, and the session was cancelled.

    Ed Makowski

  • Owl lwO says:

    I wonder when symphonies will allow the Moog synthesizer to be part of the group. I can just see Ed Kalehoff at the Boston Pops ripping a stirring rendition of the theme song from The Price is Right! And behind curtain number one out comes Bob Barker who’s all red faced while accompanying Ed on the tuba, Drew Carey slinks out behind curtain number two tinkling his glokenspiel, and former TPIR model Janis Pennington descends into the symphony’s percussion section hammering away on a 12 piece drum set.

    • Great idea. The word “allow” doesn’t sit well though. All the so inspired composer has to do is write the work and get it played. The better the work the better the chance of having it performed. Go for it. Nobody “owns” symphonies. The creative instinct should work totally unfettered. GO,GO,GO.