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Exclusive: Pierre Boulez goes on video to save German radio orchestra

The campaign to stop Southwest German Radio (SWR) from sacking its orchestra in Baden-Baden and Freiburg, or merging it with the main SWR orchestra in Stuttgart, is gathering pace and power.

The great French composer Pierre Boulez, who has lived in the area, has given a video interview to the orchestra’s conductor, Francois Xavier Roth, which you can watch here for the first time. Boulez calls the abolition of the orchestra ‘absurd’.

The eminent German conductor Michael Gielen has also joined the protest.

And the viola soloist Tabea Zimmermann has added her voice.

There will be a critical meeting in Mannheim tomorrow before a committee called “Hörfunkausschuss” at which both SWR orchestras will argue and plead for their continued existence.

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Comments

  1. Boulez is still living in Baden-Baden in a nice house, where this interview was made

  2. Fran Williams says:

    Wow, Boulez looking so frail and old now, yet something still so powerful about him. I’m sure Ligeti would have had strong words about this as well, wasn’t it SWR who recorded Atmospheres (the recording later stolen by Kubrick)? And SWR’s link with Donaueschingen ensures it will forever be remembered as one of the most important (THE most important?) orchestras of the late 50s-60s.

  3. It is true, Ligeti’s “Athmosphères” was recorded by this orchestra for the Kubrick movie. The SWR orchestra also did the Uraufführung in Donaueschingen of this piece, besides numerous other modern pieces which are famous now

  4. Drew Lewis says:

    We should add to these recollections of ‘Atmosphères’ a fond remembrance of the great Ernest Bour, who conducted its first recording and was a stalwart pioneer of new music in the 1950s and 1960s. He went on, I believe, to direct the Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra. Surely there must be a rich trove of radio recordings from that late phase of his career waiting to be unearthed.

  5. Gielen is 85 now and has still some power to get furious

  6. Is dislike of Boulez compositionas not kosher?

    • Dislike fine, abuse not.

      • Hmm… Considering that Boulez has stated “[A]ny musician who has not experienced — I do not say understood, but truly experienced — the necessity of dodecaphonic music is USELESS. For his whole work is irrelevant to the needs of his epoch.” I would debate who started abusing whom first.

        According to Boulez, I’m useless and irrelevant – not a very nice thing to say. I suppose I should take his statement a bit less personally these days considering that I wouldn’t exactly call myself a musician anymore.

        I developed a strong antipathy towards Boulez and his cohorts, notably Stockhausen, under whom I had the misfortune to play while still a student. His first words to the orchestra at the first rehearsal of one of his own pieces were “I wish I didn’t have to work with live musicians because I much prefer to work with computers. Unfortunately, they’re not developed enough to produce the sounds I want to create.”

        I also had an otherwise very enjoyable lunch with Lukas Foss once (I am not saying this sarcastically – he was a very gracious person) where he said that he was sorry that many of his friends and contemporaries like Takemitsu had passed away. He missed the times when he and his group of composer friends could write music for each other. And here I was naive enought to always think composers were supposed to write for audiences – my mistake!

        In my opinion Boulez has done great damage to orchestras and classical music through his writings and influence on the Darmstadt school of composers and their acolytes. Academia has aped them ever since, contributing to the serious rift between contemporary composers and the vast majority of audiences and classical musicians.

        Hardly anything coming from the Darmstadt-influenced academics is able to attract an audience outside the largest metropolises or festival gatherings of the converted and faithful. As a result, many orchestras never had a chance to exalt and use contemporary composers to build bridges to their audiences. This is, of course, not the only reason for the current classical – or “art music” – audience declines, but I believe it has exacerbated the audience problems in classical musicdom.

        In the days of the USSR composers had to write music as dictated by the communist party, while in the USA they had to write music that would attract audiences. Hence Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Bernstein, Copeland and others pretty much had to throw dodecaphony and atonal serialism out the window. And guess what happened? They’re the most frequently performed composers from the 20th century today.

        Not Boulez, not Stockhausen, not Berio, not Henze, not Carter. I think that pretty much says it all.

        At least Henze had the sense to distance himself from the “Darmstadt School ideologies, particularly the way in which (according to him) young composers were forced to either write in total dodecaphony or be ridiculed or ignored. In his collected writings, Henze recalls student composers rewriting their works on the train to Darmstadt in order to comply with Boulez’s expectations (Henze 1982, 155).”

        That says all even more emphatically.

  7. Maestro Gielen needs to get his history right when making analogies. Hitler was not elected by a majority of Germans in 1933. In fact, the NSDAP only received 43.9% of the total vote in the March election of 1933 and had to form a coalition with the Deutschnationalen.

    Hitler used his position as Reichskanzlers to execute his coup d’etat forllowing the elections after the Reichstag fire and thanks to the chickening out of all the political parties except SPD and KPO, who gave Hitler his real power through the Ermächtigungsgesetz, which needed a 2/3 parliamentary majority.

    Minorities can be just as bad as majorities.

  8. Fran Williams says:

    Blame Messiaen. He was the one who taught them all how to write that stuff.

    • Not really – Messiaen was a good composer and I like his music. Boulez picked up the – how do I say this so it is not abusive? – “difficult to listen to” style from René Leibowitz.

      • I tend not to find Boulez’s music as thorny as you make out…more recently,it’s preoccupied with surface/glamour etc.and i struggle to get beyond the surface prettyness.

        Also, i don’t understand the seemingly interminable length of a piece like Sur Incises.
        Very attractive orchestration but what’s the underlyning thrust behind it?

        There were plenty of wonderful composers to come from that generation who were touched by serialism but didn’t get paralysed by dogma and polemics. eg. Ligeti, Xenakis,Kagel, and Stockhausen at his best.

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