The list of significant conductors who have never appeared at the Metropolitan Opera grew shorter during the past two seasons with the acclaimed house debuts of Daniel Barenboim, Riccardo Muti and Esa-Pekka Salonen. One notable maestro, Pierre Boulez, remains on that list, and at 85 he is not likely to commit to a Met production, which would involve several weeks of residency.
But Mr. Boulez was at least enticed to conduct the Met Orchestra, and that long-awaited concert took place on Sunday afternoon at Carnegie Hall. The program — Bartok’s mysterious ballet score “The Wooden Prince” and Schoenberg’s operatic monodrama “Erwartung” — was tailored to Mr. Boulez’s expertise and interests. The concert was a triumph. I lost track of the number of times Mr. Boulez and Deborah Polaski, the compelling soprano soloist in the Schoenberg, were brought back to the stage during the long final ovation.
With his acute ear for color and texture, Mr. Boulez can usually elicit a certain sound from whatever orchestra he conducts, especially with musicians as skilled and responsive as these. In Bartok’s “Wooden Prince,” written in 1917, the orchestra played with warmth and radiance yet uncanny clarity, a Boulez hallmark.