Pierre Boulez

By now Pierre Boulez’s annual residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is an eagerly awaited event, an opportunity to hear treasures from the 20th-century trove interpreted by one of its most influential and clearheaded promoters. In the next four weeks, the indefatigable Boulez, who’s scaled back his composing in favor of conducting, will continue his survey of the orchestral oeuvres of Alexander Scriabin and Edgard Varese (in an ongoing project for the label DGG); guide the CSO through first performances of a Ravel curiosity, a major Mahler, and a brand-new score by a gifted young American composer; and rehearse the Civic Orchestra in tough works by Stravinsky and Prokofiev. (In his spare time, the maestro is scheduled to scoot over to the Art Institute for another one of his illuminating talks on art and culture, this one tantalizingly titled “Is There a Zeitgeist?”) Varese, whose unorthodox classic Deserts is on the program for the first concert, has long served as a model for Boulez, both in his experiments with aural textures and in his efforts to build a lab for electronic music (realized by Boulez at the French-government-sponsored IRCAM). Deserts, which took two decades to complete, consists–characteristically–of remarkably varied patches of percussive sound, conjuring the New Mexico highlands where Varese lived. Another French innovator whose work is on the program is one of Boulez’s mentors, Olivier Messiaen. His L’ascension was written in 1933 as an expression of faith from a devout Catholic, a meditation in four contrasting ethereal movements. Vocal works by Mahler and Ravel are also included to underscore Boulez’s long-held contention that both composers really belong to this century. Mahler’s Rückert songs are familiar, but rarely heard are Ravel’s ingenious, well-crafted variations on Spanish and Greek folk materials, Don Quichotte a Dulcinee and Five Popular Greek Melodies. The brawny voiced and affecting bass-baritone Jose van Dam is the soloist in all these songs. Friday and Saturday, 8 PM, and Tuesday, 7:30 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Pierre Boulez photo.