27 October 2016

Hommage à Pierre Boulez

I seem to have a yearly habit of attending a concert that is a part of the annual Musikfest Berlin. This is a music festival that brings together modern and contemporary music, in addition to not-often-played classical works. In short, it is quite rare to find the usual suspects here. Last year I saw a performance of the SWR Baden-Baden and Freiburg Symphony Orchestra; this concert was memorable because it introduced me to Georg-Friedrich Haas with his composition entitled Limited Approximations, which is still my most favorite orchestral piece so far. Anyway, for this year, I have decided to attend a piano recital, performing all of the pieces for solo piano composed by Pierre Boulez. There is also a piece for two pianos. Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich were performing.

Now, I should say that I know nothing about Pierre Boulez. All I know is that he was a French composer, he was famous for conducting as well, he somehow had a connection with the New York Philharmonic, and that he died earlier this year. Aside from that, I know nothing about his compositions. I do know however that I have some acquaintances who hated his music.

Anyway, this recital was arranged chronologically, which meant that it opened with Boulez's Douze Notations. What can I say, these were 12 miniatures, quite fleeting as it was, and I cannot distinguish one from another. It seemed like there was a cat that walked all over the keyboard. Then followed three sonatas. I think I preferred the second sonata the most, as it was clearly something for a virtuoso pianist. The third sonata had aleatory influences in it, and I have to say, it was something that didn't really catch in memory. However, the toccata and virtuoso piece that followed, entitled Incises was definitely breath-taking. And yes, the Structures pour deux pianos, Deuxieme Livre was a sight to behold.

So I don't know what to think about Boulez. Some of his pieces give me a headache. But the others are quite remarkable. I definitely appreciate the commentary that the performers provided before every piece; as with modern art, it is hard to see why it is art, and not simply gibberish. There's typically a logic behind it, but it isn't always obvious, so the commentary breaks it in to the audience, who nevertheless are still left grasping for air.


  1. I guess what matters the most is to feel something... anything :-)

    1. Zhu,

      You're spot on. The "problem" is that what people feel are quite different, and subjective, and sometimes the fact that it is inconsistent can be quite frustrating, when experts tell you that you should feel X yet what you actually feel is Y.