Musicians remember Pierre Boulez

Musicians remember Pierre Boulez


norman lebrecht

January 07, 2016

Daniel Barenboim:
Pierre Boulez and I first met in Berlin in 1964 and there have been few fellow musicians with whom I have developed such a close and important relationship in the 52 years that followed – even though we always stuck to the formal “vous” when speaking to each other, a rarity in our rather informal world, but from my side, certainly, an expression of my deepest respect and admiration.

“Creation exists only in the unforeseen made necessary”, Pierre Boulez once wrote. With this belief as his paradigm, Pierre Boulez has radically changed music itself as well as its reception in society. He always knew exactly when he had to be radical because it was a necessary requirement for music and society to develop. He was never dogmatic, however, but always retained his ability to develop himself further. His development was based on a deep knowledge of and respect for the past. A true man of the future must know the past, and for me, Pierre Boulez will always remain an exemplary man of the future.

Pierre Boulez has achieved an ideal paradox: he felt with his head and thought with his heart.

"Hommage à Pierre Boulez zum 85. Geburtstag" Pierre Boulez, in der Berliner Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin, franzoesischer, Komponist, Dirigent, Musiktheoretiker, Avantgarde, Musik,  [Das Foto ist ein Lichtbildwerk i.S.v. §2 Absatz 1 Ziff.5 UrHG,  Nur redaktionelle Nutzung, Nutzung Honorar-& MwSt. pflichtig! Weitergabe an Dritte nicht erlaubt. Wir uebernemen keine Haftung bei einer evtl. Verletzung Rechte Dritter! Es gelten unsere AGB.,  Koepenicker Landstr. 150, 12437 B e r l i n, Bankverbindung: Thomas Bartilla, Ing-Diba, Kto. 5526039061, BLZ 50010517, Tel. + 49 178 55 60576 ]Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin, Nutzung für interne Zwecke der Staatsoper unter den Linden Berlin, kostenfrei und ohne Einschränkungen, [Das Foto ist ein Lichtbildwerk i.S.v. §2 Absatz 1 Ziff.5 UrHG,  Nur redaktionelle Nutzung, Nutzung Honorar-& MwSt. pflichtig! Weitergabe an Dritte nicht erlaubt. Wir uebernemen keine Haftung bei einer evtl. Verletzung Rechte Dritter! Es gelten unsere AGB.,  Koepenicker Landstr. 150, 12437 B e r l i n, Bankverbindung: Thomas Bartilla, Ing-Diba, Kto. 5526039061, BLZ 50010517, Tel. + 49 178 55 60576 ]

Matthias Pintscher, composer:
Sleepless and completely overwhelmed by the loss of Pierre Boulez…all the countless memories are flooding my brain, all those beautiful moments of sharing music, thoughts and an unconditional and generous friendship and his loyal mentorship….I miss him so much.

He leaves a huge void among all of us but also imposes the duty on all of us to continue to walk on the path he has laid out for us: keeping moving forward, never standing still, keeping the mind fresh, bold and inspired, always staying curious and loving and share music because it is in between humans and take it where words end…
I would not be a musician without him
no one has inspired and encouraged me more than him
and I will always miss his smile

Franklin Cohen, principal clarinet of the Cleveland Orchestra:
The wonder of hearing the sound of an orchestra change so immediately in his hands was a marvel! I can remember countless concerts where the Cleveland Orchestra would respond to his confident and always warm gestures of flexibility, rhythm and pristine clarity.
It was my honor to be asked by Mr. Boulez to record the Premiere Rhapsody of Debussy with the Cleveland Orchestra and Deutsche Grammophon. This was to be sure one of the highlights of my musical life to date.  The disc was awarded two Grammy Awards and is only a very small glimpse into the magical sound world that was the trade mark of Maestro Boulez. 

Natalia Pschenitschnikova, composer
I was the first who played Boulez Flute Sonatina in USSR. I was student in Moscow Conservatory and was almost thrown out because of that. I loved this music from the first moment. R.i.p Pierre Boulez. Thank You for everything!

Frederic Chaslin, conductor:
Pierre Boulez told me, when I worked with him, that the Jerusalem Symphony, where I now serve as Music Director, was one of the first orchestras that he conducted and actually returned there in 1967 for 2 more concerts. We found the programs and reviews in the archives for those 2 concerts:

The concerts took place in August 10 in Caesarea Amphitheater and August 12 in Binyanei Ha’ooma in Jerusalem.
The program on both concerts was:
Schoenberg Chamber Symphony No.1 Op. 9
Schumann Symphony No. 2 in C Major, Op. 61
Stravinsky Chant du Rossignol, Symphonic Poem

Riccardo Muti:
As both an admirer and friend of the Maestro, I am deeply grateful for his contributions, as composer, conductor and educator, to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, with which he had a collaboration of nearly 50 years, and served so brilliantly as its principal guest conductor and conductor emeritus.

Lennox Mackenzie, violinist and LSO chairman:
When Sir Simon Rattle announced the news of Pierre Boulez’s death at rehearsal today a palpable aura of sadness and quiet ensued. Maestro Boulez was enormously respected and loved by everyone in the LSO…. His visits were always warmly anticipated by one and all. Never one to use a baton, his minimal style of conducting brought great clarity and exhibited to the performers that it was the music that was important. The attention to detail allied to his deep, intellectual understanding of these masterpieces always brought revelations to his musicians in rehearsal. His hearing ability was legendary, able to pick out a slight intonational lapse perhaps from one musician, when a hundred were playing. Working with him was always compelling and intense.


  • John Borstlap says:

    Quite a collection of self-exposures.

    “Pierre Boulez has radically changed music itself as well as its reception in society.” This totalitarian utterance suggests that ‘music’ is a thing, a communal project, which can be changed by the people in charge of it. Was PB in charge of music? Again a historicist projection of a streamlined music history, entirely in contradiction with reality, product of postwar modernist ideology which wanted to defend a fragile position.

    • Hilary says:

      Like his very different predecessor at the New York Phil he was a brilliant educator, and awakened lots of people to music they might have otherwise given a wide berth. Perhaps this was his finest achievement in a way. Boulez always comes across with great charm, as well as clarity.
      As a teenager I quite enjoyed the rather gossipy Peyer biography on him…that probably doesn’t wear so well.

    • jaypee says:

      Did you count how many comments you’ve sent since yesterday about Pierre Boulez? I did: 24.
      Don’t you think you’ve made it clear that you don’t like him or his music and that you can now move on?

      • John Borstlap says:

        If you had read them carefully you would have noticed most of the comments were about other comments. They – the other ones – were quite revealing. But be reassured, this is my last.

    • Graham Clark says:

      Well, if we’re going to talk about self-exposures, who said Boulez was “in charge” of music?

    • N.J. Lund says:

      …And your reactive jargon would have been far less a part of this world without the likes of him. Art is lot less fragile than negating art critics would like, unfortunately. That is, some people put words and careless terminology together on the Internet, while other people make art in the world. The latter takes courage, while the former thrives in its absence. Narratives form with or without you, sir. Perhaps try harder to identify the *actual* totalitarian trends in our world? They’re definitely not located in tributes to dead art music composers, whose sole purpose is to deepen the possibilities of thought against those who allege access to “reality”.

    • muslit says:

      Very good post. I agree completely. “Pierre Boulez has radically changed music itself as well as its reception in society.” I’m sure Pierre was delighted with the changes he saw taking place around him: Minimal Music, a return to tonality, a retreat from complexity, to name only a few. His style of composing is a thing of the past. And I would have to say that a large part of society will hear his music as elitist. As far as his conducting? Incredibly over-rated. Mahler once said that music only begins with the notes. Unfortunately, that is as far as Pierre got.

  • jonathan says:

    Mr Borstlap, may I recommend some words of Robbie Burns: “O wad some power the giftie give us. To see oursels as ithers see us!”

  • William Safford says:

    Cleveland Orchestra tribute:

    If the embedding didn’t work:

  • Tommy says:

    Why aren’t there any source credits for these quotes? Did you get permission from the contributors to reproduce their original content without credit? Or is stealing only relevant when it’s someone else doing it to you?

    These are lovely tributes. It’s a shame that you want to take sole credit for them.

  • Yair Sachs says:

    Memories of Boulez in Jerusalem:

    My parents played hosts to Pierre Boulez on his visit at the Israel Festival of 1967. I was fortunate enough to be present and even act as driver in our little Simca car.
    If my memory serves, most of the conversation was carried out in German – he was all too happy to practice the language in view of his activities in Germany.
    I can’t ascertain, as had been suggested elsewhere, that he had been encouraged to come to Israel by Klemperer, but that may very well have been the case.
    Boulez lunched with us on Sa’adia Ga’on street and we took him for a walk in the old city.
    I did not attend the concert in Cesarea but, of course, I was present (and driver, again) at the concert in Jerusalem.
    I remember making the comment that, to some degree, the featured Schumann 2nd. symphony was no less difficult and bewildering to listen to than the music by Webern, what with all the offset accents and twists. I am proud to remember that he did agree heartily.
    I was just reminded by a good friend that Klemperer, here on a private visit after the 6 day war, attended Boulez’s concert at the Binyanei Ha’umah hall, Jerusalem.
    He remembers that even if you did not recognize the ‘Old Man’, you could not miss the sight of the poor person sitting behind him, swaying and swinging left and right in a futile attempt to gain a view past the gigantic Klemperer.
    That anonymous person’s plight was alleviated after the intermission: Klemperer did not stay on for Schumann’s 2nd Symphony.

    For the next day a tourist guide was engaged by the management for a more extended tour in and around the city.
    We drove eastwards along the city wall, past the Rockefeller museum, and as I made the turn to the right and the magnificent view of the valley and mount of olives was revealed, my father, with his enthusiasm for the history and views of the city (and indeed of the country at large), burst into a description of what we were seeing.
    “Stop the car,” came a stern voice from our lady guide. “If my services are not called for than I can see no reason to continue with this tour!”.
    We shut up dutifully and took all her knowledge in attentively. The loughs were saved for later that day – and they came, from none other than Boulez.

    This was, certainly, not his first conducting engagement. We had at home a non-commercial (vinyl) disk of a radio concert he had given with a Dutch orchestra – not the Concertgebouw. I did dare to mention to Boulez that the orchestra seemed to have a bit of a struggle staying together during the scherzo of the Schubert 6th. and he consented with just a smile and a nod.
    My father brought up the subject of Milhaud and the apparent neglect his music had fallen into. Boulez agreed that this was lamentable but, at the same time, he spoke of an occasion when he had included a work by Milhaud in a program and found the going, musically, rather ‘Muehsam’ (laborious).

    A couple of years later my parents went to see Boulez backstage after a concert at the Holland Festival. He was overjoyed to see them and just kept introducing “mes amis de Jerusalem” to everybody present.

    We were completely taken in by the modesty, friendliness, quiet charm and gracefulness, not to mention a fine, reticent but acute sense of humor of this giant of a person.

    A few years later I told another visitor of our encounter with Boulez. This time it was Alfred Kalmus of Universal Edition fame. He had known Boulez, a close friend, very well and had conducted countless conversations with him. All that Kalmus said on the subject of Boulez was:
    “Surely one of the most brilliant minds of our century”.
    Kalmus, it should be noted, had known most of them, starting with Gustav Mahler himself!

    • John Borstlap says:

      All very interesting stories. – Ernst Roth, editor at Universal in Vienna and later Boosey & Hawkes, had close contact with people like Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Szymanowsky, Bartok, R. Strauss, Mahler. Roth was a sophisticated, allround educated man, also knowledgeable in cultural territories other than music. In his memoirs ‘The business of music’, he describes how early modernism (Schoenberg et al) happened under his nose, so to speak, and discussing its further stages in the fifites and sixties he insisted that if these kind of ideas would become established, it would be the end of music as an art form, it would fundamentally alienate audiences and after that, their goodwill would be almost impossible to regain, even if accessible symphonies in C major were composed. His predictions were entirely fulfilled.

      The memoirs are on internet:

      Calling PB one of the most brilliant minds of the century reveals quite some ignorance of intellectual brilliance in general and especially in relation to the 20th century. Within the field of classical performance culture, where intellectual prowess is of very restricted value, someone with some more intelligence than others, may be impressive for a moment, but that does not say very much. Really great minds would never have the intellectual limitations and arrogance that PB demonstrated all his life.