The Met Orchestra conducted by Pierre Boulez

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.

Read the full review in The New York Times here.

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Wolfgang Rihm – reinventing the greats

With more than 400 works to his name, Wolfgang Rihm is among the most prolific living composers. The BBC Symphony Orchestra exposed us to a fraction of this oeuvre in the form of one of its Total Immersion Saturdays at the Barbican — his 58th birthday, as it happened. The previous evening, at LSO St Lukes, the Arditti Quartet had given a mainly Rihm programme as part of the same venture.

Rihm was present to attend the concerts and be interviewed in the Mozart Room by Ivan Hewett, an interesting exchange, marred only by aqueous amplification. He came over as a hugely genial figure, unassuming yet instinctively confident, insightful yet down-to-earth; an insatiable creator, who, though a great revisiter and recycler of scores (he once said: “Double bar lines at the end are really only vertically extended colons”) is free from fuss, from fidgety perfectionism.

He just keeps writing, and, rather as with Schubert, whom he resembles a touch, it is daunting to contemplate merely the physical labour of producing so many scores. The volume of his music, and a certain stylistic flexibility he allows himself, make it difficult, I find, to get a purchase on his achievement, to sum him up or even describe his manner, if he has one. I’ve heard numerous works by him over the years (right back to the early Almeida Festival staging of the opera Jakob Lenz), but would not readily think of his music, or other people’s, as “Rihmian” in the way that the adjective “Birt wistlean” repeatedly offers itself.

(…)

The first of two Rihm works played by the Ardittis, his single-span String Quartet No 5 — dis ingenuously subtitled “Ohne Titel”, as if quartets usually did have titles — sounded as though the most extreme aspects of Bartok’s quartet style — the crunching dissonances and pizzicati, the rebarbative continuity — had been taken to a new and unsuspected extreme.

Read the full article in The Times here.

Read a review from The Barbican in The Times here.

The Darmstadt school's British invasion

In many ways, Darmstadt is a typical German city. It has a local beer, an opera house, parks and museums and an efficient tram network, and one night in September 1944 it was devastated by an Allied bombing raid. When people emerged from the shelters, they discovered a city in which four out of every five buildings was ruined. A year later, with the second world war over, reconstruction began. The fabric of the city was slowly restored – buildings, jobs, a political structure – and in the process, more or less by accident, something remarkable happened.

Casting around for ways to regenerate cultural life in the city, its new mayor, Ludwig Metzger, was persuaded by a local musicologist, Wolfgang Steinecke, to consider the possibility of establishing an institute for contemporary music. Because Darmstadt was in the American- controlled zone of occupied Germany, Metzger and Steinecke needed the approval of the American forces to develop their ideas and by happy coincidence the officer in charge of such initiatives was a former Harvard University music student, Everett Helms. The permissions were granted, and in the summer of 1946, American army trucks delivered grand pianos to a hunting lodge on the outskirts of Darmstadt, the temporary home for the first “courses for international new music”.

The courses were initially intended to denazify German musicians by introducing them to the modern music of the 1930s and 40s, music by Bartók, Hindemith, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, all of which had been outlawed as “degenerate” under Hitler. But soon new music by the next generation of composers became part of the courses too and by the early 1950s, the summer school, now subtly redesignated as the “international courses for new music”, was acquiring a reputation as the meeting place for aspiring avantgardistes not only from Germany but across Europe and beyond.

Read the full article in The Guardian here.