Thursday, 26 March 2015
Happy Birthday, Pierre!
I do not intend to say very much, if only on account of time, but I thought it would be remiss to offer an unduly Cagean tribute to Pierre Boulez on his ninetieth birthday. I shall shortly be reporting back from Daniel Barenboim's latest homage in Berlin; the rest of the year will bring performances in London, Salzburg, and maybe elsewhere, from which I hope to say something. Let me just say now that, of any living musician, this is the one who has most inspired me. Hearing his music for the first time (Pollini's recording of the Second Sonata), hearing him conduct for the first time, whether on CD (Mahler's Sixth Symphony), or 'live' (Notations, Bartók, Ravel, and, perhaps inevitably, The Rite of Spring): those and so many subsequent encounters are not only experiences I shall never forget, but also experiences that remain with me, experiences that continue to shape me.
I am certainly not the first to call him the conscience of what I still - quaintly? - call New Music; I doubt that I shall be the last. This, however, was the man, and still is, who, by his example, whether as composer, conductor, thinker, or polemicist, showed me why we desperately needed such a conscience - and why we still do. Our Conservative Secretary State of Culture (not that a Labour politician would be any better) tweeted last night about his sadness concerning the departure of someone from the pop group, One Direction; what are the odds of his giving some thoughts upon Pli selon pli today? As Augusta Read Thomas reminded us in a Barbican programme tribute at the weekend, Boulez has been 'a true ambassador in the belief that the history of civilisation is written in art'. Resistance to barbarous late capitalism will not be found in Mr Javid's latest alleged enthusiasm; let us remember that he considers ticket touts to be worthy 'entrepreneurs'. It may just, however, be discerned in the bloody-minded refusal to bend to what is easy, to what is commercially advantageous, to what might offer false reconciliation, which brought us IRCAM and Le Marteau sans maître. That is one of the many reasons why we need Pierre Boulez and his example more than ever.
The following, however, remain just a few of the numerous more compelling reasons for that need and, more to the point. for our gratitude. We need a realm for the free proliferation of artistic fantasy, because we are human.