Sad news to start the New Year, with the death on Tuesday 5 January of Pierre Boulez. His
influence as a composer I suspect is really only just starting (not that his influence has been
inconsequential so far), but for many it will have been his conducting and recordings for
which he has been best known. On both sides of the Atlantic – starting with his principal
conductorships in the ’70s of both the BBC Symphony and New York Philharmonic
Orchestras, then his long-standing relationships with the London Symphony, the Cleveland
and Chicago Symphony Orchestras, and latterly the Lucerne Festival Academy – Boulez
helped place large swathes of 20th-century music before the public. In Paris he leaves behind
such physical presences as the Pompidou Centre (under which is found his electronic
research brainchild IRCAM) and the new Philharmonie de Paris, barely a year old, to his
memory – let alone his Ensemble InterContemperain – and Berlin follows suit shortly with
the opening of a new small hall in Berlin – the Pierre Boulez Hall.
I remember particularly Boulez conducting Schoenberg’s
at the Royal Albert
Hall at the 1987 Proms, marshalling the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and a
roster of singers led by Jessye Norman.
His last Prom was 21 years later – an all Janáček
programme with Paul Wingfield’s edition of the earliest version of the Glagolitic Mass
these choral works represented repertoire – from the very early years of the 20th century – in
which Boulez excelled and, even if I found that I wasn’t particularly attuned to his Mahler,
you could always guarantee meticulously rehearsed performances.
No doubt many concerts this week will rightly be dedicated to Boulez – the London
Symphony and Simon Rattle’s performances this weekend of Debussy’s
Pelléas et Mélisande
will most surely be (Boulez’s Welsh National Opera performances of the work in Peter
Stein’s production is another abiding memory). He will be missed.
Meanwhile, in London at least, January is the month when new season concert details are
released by venues and orchestras. Even though the 2015-2016 season is barely four months
old, we’ll now find out what concerts we can go to in the capital until July 2017! And if that
seems a long way away, spare a thought for the soloists and conductors, let alone concert
promoters, who are probably looking at least another two years ahead to firm up repertoire.
Who knows what they will be doing 18 months hence and whether they will want to play, or
hear, Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony or Handel’s Messiah
for example. But that’s the
classical music business for you.
And booking so far ahead is now just as common for big pop/rock and even comedy stars
who announce booking for their stadium tours way in advance (and, in passing, I will note
that most of those ticket prices are much higher than for regular classical concerts). At least
most classical concerts take place in halls that need no amplification and where you can see
from every seat without recourse to massive digital screens.
It’s good to know that classical music is keeping it both live and real!
© Nick Breckenfield, 2016
Nick Breckenfield has worked in and around the classical music industry over the last 25 years - at venues, agencies and as
a programme note writer and marketeer. He was Classical Music
editor for Whatsonwhen for 13 years,
and current clients include the Borletti-Buitoni Trust.