Welcome to the Pierre Boulez Philharmonie

Welcome to the Pierre Boulez Philharmonie


norman lebrecht

October 26, 2016

The Paris hall campaigned for by the late composer will be named after him today.



  • John Borstlap says:


    • 18mebrumaire says:

      . . . don’t be shy, john, say what you really mean!

      • Sally says:

        Actually, he typed a long furious text but his wife intervened and redacted it at the last second. But I had had a look at it while being written and saw a couple of terms which were not quite printable. It had something to do with giving a bunker Hitler’s name, or something like that, and comparisons with a crashed space ship that he hoped that PB… I better stop now.

        Well, nobody asks MY opinion but I think that design fully deserves PB’s name. Just wonder why they perform classical music in it.

  • Gaffney Feskoe says:

    Bravo Paris!

    • David Osborne says:

      Thank you to another SD commenter for providing this wonderful excerpt from an interview with the great cellist Stephen Isserlis, that appeared recently in ‘The Economist’:
      “Isserlis is refreshingly ready to slaughter the avant-garde’s sacred cows, dismissing the late Pierre Boulez—the biggest such beast—as having had a deleterious effect on musical life. “Now there’s room for everybody, every style,” he proclaims cheerfully. “There’s never been such a great age for new music.”
      Music is finally moving on from that hideous era of academic control for which Boulez was the figurehead and chief spokesperson. Perhaps not the best time to be naming yet another new auditorium after him. In another few years, that’s not going to look good.

  • Paul Edlin says:

    How wonderful to see such a spectacular concert hall named after one of the most important and influential musicians of the last 50 years. Boulez is admired by all discerning musicians, and he helped shape music in many forms, from our understanding of Wagner to Bartok, Brückner to Debussy, Mahler to Xenakis. Boulez the conductor was one incarnation. Boulez the mighty composer another, and there are very many composers who owe far more than a debt to him. He shaped our/their music too. And then there was Boulez the motivator, who created IRCAM and the first professional full time contemporary music ensemble, Ensemble Intercontemporain. Those who deride Boulez miss the immense significance of his remarkable achievements. There is not one professional musician I know who worked with Boulez (and I know a few!) that doesn’t hold him in the very highest esteem. He made a wonderful difference. I would love to hear music in this hall very much, and I suppose I should seize the moment to do so while I can get to France without the need of a Visa!

    • Gerhard says:

      Do you mean Christoph or Michael Brückner?

    • David Osborne says:

      Difficult to know where to start really, I haven’t got all day you know.

      Boulez is admired by all discerning musicians? I picked that line in particular because it is a linguistic approach typical of the arguments presented by a certain school of thought that is rather too prevalent in music today. When saying something utterly contentious, say it concisely, precisely, definitely. No one will notice. Your comment is full of these, but frankly it wouldn’t matter even if it were true and it manifestly is not. Read again the thoughts of Stephen Isserlis in my comment above.

      A little off subject, but here is another, particularly noxious example courtesy of American sociologist Robert Gutman that opens the BBC documentary ‘The Wagner Family’: ” The subject matter of Parsifal is racial purity.” No qualification, no room for questioning, just a blanket statement as if he’s saying ” the earth is round”. Yes indeed, if you are going to speak bollocks, do it with authority!

      So thank you, but no. I do not need to have my understanding of Wagner and Mahler etc shaped by the ideas of Mr Boulez. His only real contribution was to write himself into their story, thus creating the negationist historical narrative which sits absolutely at the heart of the disaster that has been post WW2 music. Certainly, with Wagner in particular it is hard to imagine two more different creative approaches.

      There is no doubt that Boulez the figure in musical politics, had an enormous influence in shaping the state of the art-form as we find it today. I don’t think anyone’s arguing about that. Need I say more?

      • Christopher Culver says:

        The vast majority of “classical music” written after World War II has been fairly conventional, and he avant-garde of Pierre Boulez was very much a niche scene. Perhaps he had some power in French cultural circles, but that’s just one country out of very many, and composers in the former Soviet Union and the Nordic countries, for example, mainly continued the Romantic tradition or wrote Neoclassical works through most of the decades when Boulez was a firebrand. Furthermore, Boulez spend the last several decades of his life conducting and even championing music from schools that were not his own, or which even arose as a reaction to his own (look at how much spectralism and late Ligeti he performed, for example), so Mr. Isserlis’s accusation that Boulez reduced the availability of music to purely his own kind of stuff is patently untrue.

        Of course Boulez had his tastes, and voiced his criticisms of some composers, but no musician is obliged to perform or encourage everything out there. I doubt any critics of Boulez are any different in this regard. If Mr. Isserlis were a music director or a cultural czar, for example, how much Boulez would be programmed?

        (But really, David, if you think that post-WWII music was a disaster, you are missing out on so much music that you’d probably love, and that would be a damn shame. It wasn’t just atonality etc. Go explore!)

        • John Borstlap says:

          It is definitely not true that ‘all discerning musicians’ admire Boulez. Even orchestral top players who respected his conducting, had their well-informed caveats, ventilating them only after retirement – for fear of loosing their job:


          I know quite some discerning musicians and many of them wholeheartedly despise PB, although they would not say so in public, because they fear this would distract from their career and their real musical concerns. Better to let something bleed dead of its own accord, when it is not viable. But PB’s spirit still hovers over music life in one way or another. He belongs to a niche and that spirit should return there. For the central performance culture PB’s influence was a disaster.

          In France, PB helped to create a politbureau atmosphere: when pianist Jerome Ducros treated postwar atonalism ironically in a public lecture, he unintentionally unleashed a scandal that reverberated for more than a year in Parisian public space, waking-up all the totalitarian dogs from the IRCAM cellar (Institute for the Retarded Conservatives of Anticultural Music):



          • jaypee says:

            Do you have a life besides slipped disc or do you just spend your days, checking if something that may allude to Pierre Boulez will appear?
            I think not.

            Can’t you just, like, move on? Seriously?

          • David Osborne says:

            I have noticed a worrying trend of late. There appears to be a certain breed of person with nothing better to do with their time than to stare blankly at the Slipped Disc feed hoping against hope that a new article will mention Boulez. They then rush to the comments section and find fulfillment there hurling insults at our esteemed Mr Borstlap. My beloved Milka appears missing in action so I guess we’ll have to make do with the rather less inciteful and imaginative Jaypee.

        • David Osborne says:

          Dear Christopher, now that you have unleashed the beast and JB is on the case, I will have little to add.

          • Christopher Culver says:

            Again, it would be sad if you paid much attention to Borstlap’s vitriol. All those negative comments about Boulez (and whatever other composers Borstlap doesn’t like) only blind one to the fact that there is a lot of other post-WWII music to explore and everyone will find something that appeals to him or her. Who bloody cares about what Jerome Ducros and some of his peers argued about? None of those squabbles change the fact that we are in a golden age of music listening when there’s enough non-avant-garde music on offer to last one a lifetime, regardless of Boulez. (If he was trying to suppress anything, he didn’t do a very good job.)

          • John Borstlap says:

            To Christopher:

            “None of those squabbles change the fact that we are in a golden age of music listening when there’s enough non-avant-garde music on offer to last one a lifetime, regardless of Boulez. (If he was trying to suppress anything, he didn’t do a very good job.)” I fully agree, with the caveat that this situation has arisen only recently, and not completely, certainly not in music education, music history writing and funding of new music. But the point you are missing, is that people like PB (i.e., lots of his followers included), don’t agree with such vision at all, and claim priority in terms of state subsidies, performing space, academic attention, etc. in name of nothing more than an ideology. My critique is against this ideological mentality which is still much around, as any musician active in music practice knows. But audiences are mostly unaware of this, and are merely a bit puzzled about the numerous presentations of works on the programs they don’t quite understand as music, but will politely applaud. The aftermath of modernism is to still try to prevent pluralism from fully happening in music life.

            If you had read what happened around the Ducros scandal carefully, you had sniffed the deplorable smell of toalitarianism emerging from the attacks against Ducros. In a pluralist music life, there would be protests from the modernist corner, but not those silly claims of a ‘reigning modernist establishment’ that bursted into the media at the time.

            For the record: I like PB’s ‘Notations’ (orchestral version), the beginning of ‘Pli selon Pli’ (the 1st Pli so to speak), and ‘Eclat Multiples’ once in a while, but not as music.

            Just by way of recollection – what happens when youngsters are fed with postwar ideologies:


  • David Osborne says:

    Thanks Christopher, I really don’t need you to tell me whether or not we are in a golden age of musical diversity. I have my own professional experience over a considerable number of years to inform me on that. Think I’ll stick with Borstlap’s vitriol and Ducros’s courage if that’s OK.

    • Christopher Culver says:

      Well, I don’t think it is OK. The sheer amount of non-avant-garde repertoire composed post-WWII is, as I said, enough to last one a lifetime. This is not a matter of subjective taste, this is objectively verifiable: just total the length of CD recordings (considering, of course, how much time one would have to dedicate to pieces one enjoys before one may feel that one has exhausted their pleasures). If you want to put your hands over your ears and say “La la la, I can’t hear you, my professional experience tells me differently”, then that’s your choice. But beyond making you miss out on things you might like, you risk misleading other people into thinking that all that music isn’t right there to explore. We all know what joy the music that each of us likes brings to our lives, so why would anyone want to potentially discourage others from exploring all that’s available? (And now, through filesharing communities, that music is readily available to anyone with an internet connection even if they are unable or unwilling to purchase it or if they don’t have access to a well-stocked library.)

      Your insinuation that Boulez harmed postwar classical music does far more harm to the art than the man himself actually did or could have done.

      • John Borstlap says:

        I am very sorry to have to inform you, probably without any consequences, that you are ill-informed.

        The musicologist Herbert Pauls wrote a book about non-modernist music being written in the 20th century, which fully confirms your claim that there is so much in that field, but which also shows how it has been suppressed, and how ‘established’ music history writing has put a veil over it:


      • David Osborne says:

        OK back then to the important stuff. I am chuffed Christopher that you credit me with having that much influence. But audiences haven’t switched off at my instigation, that happened a long while back. So please, in all seriousness cite me by way of example one masterpiece of this golden age that can be found on YouTube and I promise I’ll give it a good listen. In the meantime, here’s one of mine- John Borstlap you will also appreciate this: please pay particular attention to what happens 0:36.

        • John Borstlap says:

          To me this seems a Musiksalat, a one-pan-meal with everything thrown-in indiscriminatory.

          • Sally says:

            The word is: indiscriminately.

          • David Osborne says:

            A beautifully played ‘straight bat’ there John. I must say I’m surprised and perhaps just a little disappointed… given that I was trying to push your buttons. My real thoughts on that clip are that we shouldn’t ever judge a work on a trailer. But the assimilation of HipHop music into the Opera House/Concert Hall is really where I have to draw the line.

        • Christopher Culver says:

          How would I know what you would consider a “masterpiece”? Your definition is not guaranteed to meet mine. But with the sheer amount of music written in all kinds of styles since World War II, I think it extremely probable that you will find a number of pieces out there that you would love. If your tastes run to the sort of music written before World War II, then Nordic and Soviet music, where prewar trends continued uninterrupted and an avant-garde was hardly noticeable for decades after WWII, would probably be a good place to start.

          No self-respecting classical music fan should use YouTube to discover new music. Firstly, why deal with its low sound quality when you can download the music in a lossless format from a filesharing community, often with CD or LP booklet scans along to boot?

          But secondly, if I or anyone linked to YouTube, your opinion of the piece would be prejudiced by seeing the composer’s name straightaway. The good thing about just downloading a vast collection of classical music is that one can set one’s playlist to random and, with the screen turned off, it becomes blind, unprejudiced listening. It is surprising how often a piece that speaks to one’s heart was written in an era or by a composer that one thought one didn’t like.

          • David Osborne says:

            I’m very sorry to hear that, I am more than happy making my own work available on YouTube. Overall and in conclusion, I seem to have found myself being drawn into statements I never actually meant to make. Even my comments re PB were not intended as a criticism of his music, which I have no problem with. When I criticise the current state of music, it’s about a toxic, disfunctional system, not the new music itself. Totally concur with Mr Borstlap on that. This is what I’m referring to when I speak of my life experience. We are all praising the possibility of great diversity, on that much we can agree. But there is a stultifying conservatism coming from those who control the resources i.e. the money that keeps the artform ticking over. That must change, it certainly hasn’t yet. Unfortunately this, not his music, is the legacy of Boulez and his acolytes.

  • jaypee says:

    I have also noticed a worrying trend of late: whenever a topic is about “the current state of music” or Pierre Boulez oror modern architecture, half of the -usually numerous- comments are made by the two same persons. “It’s as if they had nothing better to do with their time than to stare blankly at the Slipped Disc feed hoping against hope that a new article will mention Boulez”. Then “rush to the comments section and find fulfillment there” writing the same thing over and over and over again, just like the day or the week before…

    I think we all by now know Mr. Borstlap’s as well as his sidekick’s, Mr. Osborne, position on Boulez, the “current state of music”, or on modern architecture: they don’t like it.
    I also think that no one who reads Slipped Disc will ever change his/her opinion on “the current state of music” after reading Mr. Borstlap’s or Mr. Osborne’s comments. They are not interested in discussion and, obviously, we aren’t either. Especially with them.

    So can we just move on?