Boulez--looking pretty darn good for somebody pushing 90--conducted a performance of his Sur Incises that was intermittently engrossing but overall exasperating. Immediately afterwards I was told by two intensely musical people
“I just don’t get modern music.”
“That was the greatest thing I’ve ever heard!”
I agreed with both. I have a longstanding hate/love thing with Boulez.
I hate his academicism: “intellectual” in the most deadly sense of the word. Its “objectified, mechanized savagery.” (Andrew Ross) Polemical posturing rather than communicating or exploring anything. Rebarbative not for its content, but for its insufferable Wagnerian pretentiousness. A museum modernism in the worst sense of Viennese modernist taste—naughtiness/pathology presented as trinkets for snobs. Its “hyperactive chic” (Morton Feldman)
I love his abstract and intricate delirium. There was a passage where the ensemble swelled, then subsided, again and again. It was hypnotic. For the moments of quietness to fascinate, there had to be the wilderness of the setting. It created openness and attentiveness. And something like this happens whenever I hear Boulez well played. Pierre-Laurent Aimard played his first piano sonata as a meteorological event. The Ensemble Intercontemporain playing Dérives I with each sliver of sound given a form and a trajectory.
The delight of the evening was Renard. I realize now that my official Stravinsky-supervised recording is a travesty. The real thing is loud and boisterous and yet—without being a drag about it—disciplined as clockwork. It also is full of echoes and anticipations of a half dozen other Stravinsky pieces, none handled with reverence.