Last Sunday I drove to Chicago to attend the "A Tribute to Boulez @85" concert. I purchased my tickets in December and had been waiting for this concert for weeks. (Sorry I didn't post about this sooner - I've actually been...composing...go figure.)
Admittedly, I haven't been a huge fan of Boulez. I was first introduced to recordings of his music in high school (more than 10 years ago) and I wasn't sold, and I heard some other pieces while I was in college, and I knew it was over my head. I think my problem was that I never listened to his works live.
During intermission of this particular concert I realized that my experience of appreciating Boulez is roughly the same as my experience for appreciating baseball. As a kid, I hated baseball: I thought it was pointless and ridiculously slow. Watching the game on TV obviously didn't help me appreciate the game, and the only thing I liked about listening to the ballgame on the radio was hearing Vin Scully advertise Farmer John's Hot Dogs. (You'd think that Vin Scully + Dodger Dogs would convince me that baseball IS America's pastime, but it didn't. I was young then.)
I went to my first ballgame (Freeway Series) when I was 16, and I believe it changed my life. I wasn't terribly into the game (neither was Raul Mondesi), but I got what baseball was all about. I believe after attending the concert last week, I understand why Boulez is seen as a great composer.
The concert featured four of his works, Notations, Structures (Livre II), Messagesquisse, and Anthèmes 2, along with two pieces commissioned in honor of Boulez's birthday (written by Johannes Boris Borowski and Dai Fujikura).
These performances were spectacular. Pierre-Laurent Aimard performed both the Notations and Structures, Livre II (along with Tamara Stefanovich). According to Stefanovich's bio, both of them recently recorded Bartok's Concerto for Two Pianos and Percussion. After seeing their performances, I'm sure it's a fantastic recording.
Messagesquisse did not disappoint, and Fujikura's Mirrors didn't, either. Fujikura said he was hoping that Messagesquisse would NOT be on the program because he wrote his piece for 6 cellos. (Boulez's piece calls for 7.) Oops. I hope that even though the composer wrote a piece that would potentially compete with Boulez's, he realizes that his work complemented Boulez's perfectly.
The last piece, Anthèmes 2 was performed flawlessly by Nathan Cole. Unfortunately, a few seconds into the piece a huge BOOM came from the speakers and probably made all the audience members jump out of their seats. After a few minutes, the piece started again and everything went alright. (Note to myself: even 3 IRCAM engineers can mess up from time to time. That being said, Jérémie Henrot's patch/program that figures out how to adapt surround sound to a specific venue is pretty dang cool.) Mr. Cole blogged about his experience playing this piece at the Symphony Center.
Hopefully Boulez will still be around for another five years so Chicago can produce another concert like this.