Boulez at The Guardian

There’s a great feature over at the Guardian by Tom Service on Pierre Boulez’s annual conducting masterclasses at the Lucerne Festival. It includes a nice video interview with some brief footage of his work at the institute.

I’ve been told in the past by some of our students (sometimes in appreciation, but other times in bafflement) that the Rose City International Conductor’s Workshop was the only conducting masterclass they’d been to that put any emphasis on intonation, so I was doubly pleased (if not surprised, given that it was Boulez) to read this-

“…We spoke about this already, and so I mean, it ought to be right!” He then makes Pablo tune a dissonant horn passage. “Are you happy with that chord? I am not,” Boulez says. “So tell them how to make it better.”

Pablo identifies a problem with the G flat in the chord for the four horns, but can’t improve it without Boulez’s intervention. “The most difficult problem in conducting,” says Boulez, “is intonation” – ie making sure all the musicians are playing the right note. “You must know what is wrong and how to correct it.” Later, he tells me that he “cannot stand wrong intonation. I know I put the conductors in an embarrassing situation, but they have to be able to do it.”As if that isn’t enough, there is also an interview with Simon Rattle here.  


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American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

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2 comments on “Boulez at The Guardian”

  1. David Hoose

    I couldn’t get the video to work, so I don’t know how Boulez was trying to help the conductor on the podium fix the intonation and can’t comment on his teaching method. Nonetheless, I don’t think anyone learns how to tune things by standing on the podium, at least not at first–it’s just too overwhelming for younger or less experienced conductors. Maybe it was never so for PB, but not everyone is blessed with such cool and ears.

    You can learn to deal with intonation, however, by raising your own standards, and just about the only path I can think of to do that is to play in the orchestra and/or to play chamber music. A lot. Even percussionists, generally not having to deal directly with tuning problems, can learn tons from their vantage point, listening from the inside out instead of from the outside in. That’s why it’s extremely important for conductors who are trying to figure this hornet’s nest (as well as innumerable other ones) to sit in the orchestra when ever they can, and not in the audience. Even. If they’re not actually playing, they have have a chance of hearing something like the players do.

    I think it’s virtually useless on all counts–except perhaps to see how the conductor looks when he or she comes out to bow–to sit in the audience. Frequently enjoyable, but hardly ever really informative. Go sit in the back of the seconds, or in that empty chair in the violas (where is that player, anyway?), or even–gasp–beside the piccolo player.

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