Excerpts of one of the relatively rare interviews with Pierre Boulez, published in the Frankfurter Rundschau this week (my translation):
You have worked as a conductor for more than half a century. Surely, the music enterprise has changed very much during that time?
Pierre Boulez: Not enough. I still think that one should do much more for the contemporary music, as well as for the contemporary art. For the contemporary art, you have the Documenta. A comparable event does not exist for contemporary music. But I am definitely optimistic, regarding the situation of contemporary music today. We do not play for empty halls anymore. However, compared to the visual arts, we also have the disadvantage of the lack of economic interest from audience members: Nobody can go into a concert and hope that what he brings with him is much more worth 20 years later. In addition there is the time question. If a picture does not please you, you continues to go to the next. That cannot be done with a concert. At the most, you can leave and thus demonstrate your anger.
We talk about the changes in the music enterprise, to which you have contributed significantly.
Pierre Boulez: I have tried my best..
You were basically the only person in question [for the leadership of the IRCAM]?
Pierre Boulez: At the time, I had the luck not to have been much in France for almost 20 years, working instead abroad in Germany and in the States.So one had the impression in France that I had achieved success on an international level - that was my luck...
Your conducting style is free of maestro attitudes?
Pierre Boulez: Conducting is a dialogue. I have had the luck to work frequently with extraordinary musicians, with their own idea about the pieces, which one cannot ignore. They have their own thoughts about the music and sometimes come to other results than I. But we always meet at the end. It may appear that I am very serious, but there are moments, where one must listen exactly to what the musicians have to say.
..To work in America was good schooling. Rehearsal time cost money and are often very limited there. One had to come to the point quickly, be well prepared and know how to bring your ideas forward, which is best done by convincing the musicians. You cannot convince anybody, if you are not convinced yourself.
Is orchestra work more relaxed in Europe?
Pierre Boulez: To work with the musicians in the Ensemble Modern is just marvelous,...But I have also had excellent experiences for example with the Vienna Philharmonics, even when I pushed the orchestra very hard.
Doesn't the orchestras in Europe represent a very conservative tradition?
Pierre Boulez: Yes, and the changes happen far too slow for my taste! Just take the formal attire worn by musicians..around 1870, 1880 a comparatively normal article of clothing. Today it isolates the musicians from its public. Why not also wear a wig! ...to go to a concert is like going to the museum in order to look at a conserved body.
You were also the first conductor, to take Frank Zappa seriously as a serious composer?
Pierre Boulez: He came to me in Paris bringing with him his own compositions for orchestra and was very pleasant, but I did not have an entire orchestra to my disposition at that time, only the Ensemble Intercontemporain. I said to him, if he wanted to write pieces for that ensemble, I would play them...In concert I have played his music together with that of Elliott Carter, Charles Ives and Carl Ruggles, in order to emphasize his role as an American composer.
It came to energizing meetings between those audience members, who had come to the concert because of Carter or Ives, and those, who had come because of Zappa, which could be distinguished from each other on the basis of their clothing alone..In that way the public was confronted not only with strange music, but also with itself.
Your third role in the music enterprise is that of the composer. What is your influence in that regard?
Pierre Boulez: On the enterprise the smallest possible.
One must wait, until conductors like yourself plays your music..
Pierre Boulez: Exactly. As a conductor I play both my own music and that of my colleagues. Many conductors today, however says to themselves: He can conduct his own music himself, therefore we do not have to do it. When my music is conducted by someone else, it sometimes feels like if I own a car and am only allowed to be in the passenger seat..