Sunday, 17 August 2008

Prom 40: Tarantara, tarantara!

“I don’t care at all for tradition,” said Boulez in the interval interview on Radio 3. “I like to establish my own tradition! . . . A tradition is just an accumulation of mannerisms and. . . imitations. The real approach is just to take the score, a personal relationship with it, and try to give that to the audience.” (I’ve paraphrased a little, not being much cop at shorthand.) What he created in Prom 40 with Janacek’s Sinfonietta and Concertino, let alone the Glagolitic Mass, was definitely his own, quite new, ‘tradition”, and a superb, fascinating one, probably un-imitatable, it was too.

I didn’t know, but apparently this was Boulez’ final appearance as a conductor. He’s ‘retiring’ to concentrate on composition, the presenter said at the end of the concert.*  What a way to go! And what a damn shame that we won’t have this kind of experience again. He hadn’t changed a bit since those glory days—what, thirty-odd years ago?—when he was Chief Conductor of the same orchestra he came back to tonight. We were really privileged.

Some Proms are epiphanies, as we rediscover a piece, like the Sinfonietta in this, that we have almost come to think of as banal through too-frequent, too-average playing. (It has never helped that the ‘fanfare’ introduced a British early afternoon soap for years.) The BBCSO’s under Boulez’s baton was another one this year. Not to mention the authentic ‘shock of the new’ we had when it came to the astonishing Concertino. I’d rescue that from a burning building well before I bothered about pretty well any of the ‘new’ contemporary pieces I’ve heard this season.

From the first notes of the ‘fanfare’, it sounded as though this was going to be different; not a brash blazing thing, a separate little showpiece blasted out to get your attentiion, though in its almost understated way, it did exactly that, but a proper opening statement of a theme. This Sinfonietta was, for once, absolutely true to its title. Tautly performed, very carefully, insightfully, constructed in the orchestral balance, piccolo, flutes and violins soaring with seeming casual simplicity above the statements of the brass. Pure, even, in its occasional unashamed, foxy side-glances at Romaticism, too. Vivaciously played, and presumably, conducted . . . Pure joy to hear like that.

Boulez commented to the effect that Janecek was not a ‘folk’ composer, but one who lived ‘popular’ music, and this was what this performance, and the Mass, brought out with tremendous clarity. And the BBCSO seemed to know, just as he trained them to years ago (with some difficulty at times, I seem to remember) though few of its members then could still be part of it now, instinctively, exactly what he wanted.

Oh dear, BBC websters, you’ve done it again! None of the links to the notes for these performances were what they seemed: those titled ‘Glagolitic Mass’ were for the Concertino, for the Sinfonietta, the Mass, and so on. Or something like that. I got confused. Like I did a couple of times last year, when they did the same sort of thing, only worse; Beethoven was transmuted into Glazunov, or something even more bizarre. Doesn’t anybody there a) know about classical music, b) read and/or c) check with someone competent at either if they don’t? I think I know the answers, and they ain’t encouraging. So just print all three, and sort it out later. Saves kicking your computer into inoperability out of frustration.

Between you and me, I had hoped I might be able to crib a little from them, never having heard the
Concertino before. But, as you will see if you download them, that was a rather forlorn hope, so I had to rely entirely on my own. . .And 24 hours later I can barely read the damn scribbles.

And what with the
Glagolitic Mass, then Belshazzar on Saturday and Flos Campi on Sunday, I haven’t time to listen to it all over again and It’s too late to learn proper shorthand now; I really must do something about my handwriting. To think I used to be able to do proper Italian Renaissance italic, even fairly quickly . . .

Glagolitic Mass review, and maybe the Concertino, may have to wait a little while in consequence. (I can’t keep staying up this late; well, not writing, anyway.) That was also a superb, glorious, exciting Carl Orffian-Carmina Buranian (I mean that in the best, lively, engaging, communicating sense!) performance. Oh, those choruses! Tenor and bass pretty good, bit thinnish, bass a bit better; mezzo and soprano a bit wobbly.

Fantastic energy. But, oh, again, that wonderful orgasmic organ! Wrong word for an instrument in a mass, maybe, but this one was downright pagan in its festiveness anyway. It shivered my icons’ timbers, I can tell you; I could see the halos shuddering. Boulez, I swear, 83 (two years older than the BBC Proms themselves!) going on 23 tonight. I’d wondered about the ‘reconstruction’ of the score (I’ll have to delve a bit more into that sometime) but this performance totally justified the choice.

* I may have been the victim of some careless background 'research' for the presenter's script here. He is supposed to be conducting two concerts in London and one in Paris between now and the end of  the year. Apparently, he has said he doesn't want to conduct opera, not not conduct . . . I apologise for not checking this myself. And I'm damned annoyed  with the BBC, because I don't see why I should have needed to. I won't take them on trust any more.

R3 relay

Prom 40: BBCSO/Pierre Boulez: Janacek, Sinfonietta; Concertino; Glagolitic Mass.


Roger Thomas said...

The rumour of Pierre Boulez's retirement as a conductor has been greatly exaggerated (to wildly paraphrase Mark Twain). See the response from Doundou Tchil to your comment to the effect that he was standing down on her website Classical-Iconoclast, and my own remarks there. As well as the upcoming concerts I mentioned there that he is conducting later this year, he is active at the Lucerne Festival in the next few days.

Effectively, Boulez has already cut down on conducting ito devote more time to composing. But he seems to need to go on doing some conducting and there's no indication that he will stop. He seems immensely healthy too at the moment for an 83-year-old. Longmay that be so!.

Roger Thomas said...


The bit of the Sinfonietta used at the start of the "soap" Crown Court -- not quite a soap more a continuing docu-drama -- was of course the 4th movement, not the opening first movement "Fanfare"

Pah, Pah, Pah, Pah Pah-Pah Pah Pah-Pah...

I noticed one or two of the older couples in the RAH audience smiling at each other in recognition of this when it struck up.

theartofcriticism said...

I have actually one more Quiz in my blog. But who will be interested in this? I feel no need to post it:

Clue: “Conductor’s Boston Symphony Orchestra -> Furtwangler’s BSO -> Szell’s BSO -> Szell’s Cleveland Orchestra -> Szell’s German Orchestra -> Furtwangler’s German Orchestra.”

Question: “What is a keyword in this sequence? This is why I wrote to Italian politicians that tradition is important. This is also why Boulez said that he doesn’t care at all for tradition.”

P.S.: No special intention to bother you. I was sending my regular mail to New York Folks, who never plan to answer my Quiz. I just remember that I read Boulez this morning. I had to search and search. I didn’t know it was from your blog. Just in case you know the answer…

Anonymous said...

But the Capriccio is a concertino.

Prommer said...

Why do I feel my life is becoming unnnecessarily complicated all of a sudden? I'm just going to look up the Opus number and call it that, I think . . .