Towards those who find nothing to admire in the conducting of Pierre Boulez, nor in his compositions, one tends to adopt a Machiavellian strategy – (a sweet smile of “agreement” perhaps? or a quick change of subject? – “Oh my God, it IS cloudy today, isn’t it”.). Meanwhile, in the secrecy of one’s mind, where honesty can reign, one is marveling, absolutely marveling at this man and his achievements. I was deeply moved by his concert with Verklärte Nacht, Bartók’s Four Orchestral pieces op.4 and the Pulcinella Suite. The playing (the Mahler Chamber Orchestra) was of a standard you almost never hear.
But what really touched me about the event was Boulez himself, still conducting as well as ever – an agile 82 year old. His physical gestures have reduced in size somewhat (I am remembering him from London in the late 60s/early 70s when I was a student and used to go to all his concerts with the BBCSO – he was Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra from 1971-1975). But he still walks quickly to the podium as he always did, and has that same modest manner (nothing fancy or pompous about HIM). Only when he exits from the wings do you see that he is very slightly bent with age. And when he bows to the audience, not really smiling fully, his face is somehow twisted, I don’t know, it’s difficult to describe.
I last saw Boulez conduct at Aix in 1983. So it was a shock to see him now, so aged. It saddened me very much, and my thoughts turned to Stravinsky’s concert at the Royal Festival Hall in 1965. Then, Stravinsky was 83, so only a little older. But he was not in such good shape. He came on to the stage with a stick, dragging a bad leg behind him. Incidentally, his manner was nothing like the “artisan” approach of Boulez. He was both noble and gracious. A happy aristocrat. Well, I have said a whole lot of times that Stravinsky was a king amongst composers, so that expresses it perfectly, so far as I am concerned.
My sadness contasted, I hope, with the mood of the majority of the audience last night, for whom the occasion should have been, by rights, a joyous one.
Not out of arrogance, but simply because I find myself to be so “apart”, I experience in myself such a contrast with others. Yesterday, just folding some clothes during my “tidying hour” I was listening to the Stravinsky Jeu de Cartes. After a time, I stopped what I was doing and just concentrated on the music. Then came that astonishing E7 chord at the end. It just cracked me open and I cried. (At these times, one stands aside looking on in some astonishment). Why this most “heartless” of composers, with this “heartless” piece, dedicated to wit rather than to sentiment, should affect me so, I don’t know.