Boulez is Dead
Conflicts abound in Boulez. He rose from the sense of the outrageous, but has made a career of publicly revising the severe stand which launched him. From jeering in theatres to publicly blessing the music from enemy lands, he has become the French übermeister of taste, elegance and refinement. He conducts and commercially records that which he formerly recognized as clichéd, that which he would have blown up. Who is the public to believe? Boulez the rabble-rouser or Boulez the hypocrite? Boulez the great interpreter or Boulez the shrewish despoiler of music which he none-the-less is paid to perform and record. The French Emperor of Music would appear to be wearing no clothes.
The greatest academies seek the greatest academicians. It is no coincidence that Donald Martino is Professor Emeritus and other lesser atonalist composers are still ensconced at Harvard University. Their music is academic-establishment music, the proof is in their impressive positions and is amplified by their connections with organizational musics such as Boulez's. They have always buttered each other's bread when necessary. At first it was a matter of forming alliances for Boulez. But then it became about achieving recognition and holding onto power.
Later it became a club, membership only by the strictest rules. Those who strayed too far from severe atonal styles were seen as a 'renegade' or 'traitor' (words of Mario Davidovsky, a lifelong academic composer, when a former student broke away from his influence). There are Boulez's own remarks about colleagues: 'I put these composers on the map. Then, very quickly, they turned against me.' Turning against them was no more than changing writing styles. If a colleague dropped atonal writing, the atonalists saw this as a threatening refusal to validate their own work. Because the serialist-atonalists were dealing in a two hundred ton white elephant, one either helped bear the burden or one was outcast. When commissions, positions, performances, competitions, grants - the principle matters of advancement for composers - were available, they were available only to those who imitated their esteemed atonalist teachers. Boulez was there, near the front of the craven images assembled before the writhing humbled.
When alliances with academic American composers are not necessary, Boulez drops them as quickly as possible. Franz Xaver Ohnesong, Executive and Artistic Director of Carnegie Hall, recently announced that Boulez's residency as composer has been extended through the 2002-2003 season. According to the Carnegie Hall Publicity Office, Boulez was selected by the former Executive Director, the late Judith Arron, for a one year residency. Mr. Ohnesong made the decision to continue the affiliation for three additional years. Because the position was gained directly through the offices of Carnegie Hall, Boulez is beholden to no American composers and so is free to choose the programming. The London Symphony Orchestra concerts that Boulez recently led, as noted by the publicity office, were to present new work and 'benchmark works of the Twentieth Century.' Boulez chose no American composers for commissions or programming. Actually Boulez chose no American composers in all seven of the programs this season, though he did present an all-Schoenberg program in the smaller Weill Recital Hall.
Copyright © 25 March 2000 Jeff Talman, New York City, USA