Here is my Tuesday January 26 Chicago Sun-Times and suntimes.com review -- with cuts for space restored -- of the Sunday afternoon January 24, 2010, Chicago Symphony Orchestra MusicNOW "Pierre Boulez @ 85" concert at Orchestra Hall.
Composers Johannes Boris Borowksi and Dai Fujikura.
Monthlong Chicago Boulez celebration ends with a bang
85TH BIRTHDAY | Audience cheers composer, musicians
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra wound up its local musical celebrations of Pierre Boulez's 85th birthday with a rich program Sunday of chamber works by the pioneering composer-conductor and two protégés at Orchestra Hall. The maestro speaks on modernism this evening at The Art Institute of Chicago at 6 p.m. and then leads CSO concerts in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and at New York's Carnegie Hall to round out the month.
Boulez burst onto the world scene 65 years ago in Paris as a 20-year-old music student with a set of 12 brief piano pieces he called "Notations." Through force of will, untiring energy, rhetorical gifts as both a writer and a speaker, uncompromising standards, and -- in recent decades -- deep reserves of charm, he has played a central role in classical musical life for two-thirds of a century.
France's Pierre-Laurent Aimard has been playing Boulez's "Notations" since he himself was a teenager in Boulez's Ensemble InterContemporain. His authoritative and still-probing account gave the audience a chance to hear a basis for Boulez's experimentation and a motherlode to which the composer has returned many times over the years.
Boulez regularly chooses young composers to create new works that he might bring before a wider public. German Johannes Boris Borowski, 30, showed exceptional gifts in scoring his six-player "Wandlung" ("Transformation"), a set of interlinked changes in texture and movement whose instruments came out sounding as if they were a different combination than when they began. Pianist Amy Briggs demonstrated again why she is a MusicNOW mainstay.
Dai Fujikura, 32, of Japan, had the misfortune to offer a work for six cellos immediately following Boulez's own masterwork, "Messagesquisse" (1976) for seven -- not his choice or plan. Although I’m not convinced that Fujikura’s piece goes as far as it could or should, his "Mirrors" deserves another hearing in a different musical setting. Both cello works were executed brilliantly with principal John Sharp sailing through the tricky solos in the Boulez. Cliff Colnot was the expert conductor of the two new pieces.
"Structures," Book II (1961), for two pianos shows Boulez at his most fiendish as the players must not only master his daunting scoring, they actually improvise the order and who takes which part of the second-half “chapter” of the work. Aimard yielded the lead line with its two pile-driving cadenzas to his brilliant Serbian colleague Tamara Stefanovich.
CSO violinist Nathan Cole took up "Anthèmes 2" (1997) with electronic (some 16 speakers in the hall) and computer supervision by engineers from the Boulez-founded IRCAM center in Paris. After Boulez spoke from the stage about the advances in electronics and computers since he started working in these fields, there was an amazing sonic explosion when Cole had played barely one line. Following some rebooting by the IRCAM team (and a request for "some Bach" from an audience member), Cole gamely began again. The work perhaps belongs more to history, so influential and widespread have its playback and real-time manipulation systems developed by Andrew Gerzso become. Still, what a wonderful 3-D rendering of the ideas that go from Boulez's fertile mind to the score paper he fills with his invigorating notations. The ovations for Boulez and the whole company were long and heartfelt.