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Ravishing Firebird!

KELLY FERJUTZ reports on
Boulez in Cleveland


On 11 March 1965, in Cleveland's Severance Hall, Pierre Boulez made his American orchestral conducting début with the Cleveland Orchestra. Included on the program was one of his own works, plus one by Stravinsky. Two weeks and one day later, he celebrated his fortieth birthday. This weekend in Cleveland, we celebrate these two events. Having just turned a very sprightly and energetic eighty; some forty years and seven weeks after his début here, Mr Boulez is again on the podium at Severance Hall, and again we have one of his own works, another Stravinsky, and a small bonbon by Anton Webern. It is nirvana for music lovers.

Mr Boulez is the epitome of elegance, economical of motion but extravagant in sensitivity and depth of meaning as intended by the composer, regardless of which one that might be. He does not use a baton, but must surely have the most expressive hands in the business. And, in spite of, or maybe because of, his impressive intellect, he used the score for everything. Even his own pieces.

Beginning with the Five Movements Op 5 by Webern, Mr Boulez led the strings of the orchestra through this totally non-scary music that lasted for all of about ten minutes. Originally composed for string quartet in 1909, Webern orchestrated the miniatures some twenty years later. The first movement featured the principal strings in brief solos, with a sometimes frenetic accompaniment. A solo cello was prominent in the second, while the third presented the basses in a dreamy rhythmic strumming that led to a rather mysterious up-in-the-air type of ending. Overall, the strings sounded lush and warm, with great depth. These concerts are the first time this music has been performed by the orchestra.

In 1945, when he was twenty, Mr Boulez composed a set of miniatures for piano. He called them Notations. There were twelve of them, each twelve measures long. Thirty years later, at the confluence of two somewhat simultaneous events, he began to re-do these miniatures for full orchestra. When he says 'full' he means full! I've never seen so many instrumentalists on that stage at one time in my 26 years of attending concerts at Severance Hall. There were eight percussionists, with an incredible assortment of instruments requiring their attention.

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Copyright © 1 May 2005 Kelly Ferjutz, Cleveland USA


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