Monday, March 03, 2008
Here's another bottle of third-pressing Mahler
The debate as to whether there is such a thing as third rate music attracted a record number of comments. And it is not just music critics who rate composers. Pierre Boulez once described Shostakovich's output as "third-pressing Mahler" in an allusion to the process used to extract the cheapest and most bland olive oil.
But according to John Drummond Shostakovich rated Boulez more extra virgin than third-pressing - 'Boulez's first concert in Moscow with the BBC Symphony Orchestra was unforgettable. Nothing of the Second Viennese School had been heard there since the early 1920s, and he conducted Webern's Five Pieces for Orchestra, Berg's Wozzek fragments and Altenberg Lieder and his own Eclat.
All the young Soviet composers were sent to a mythical conference in Kiev to keep them out of the way, but Oistrakh sought me out and took me to a box at the back of the Conservatoire Hall, where behind a curtain sat the ashen-faced Shostakovich. I asked if he would give me an interview. Blue around the mouth and with shaking hands he refused, but he was not at all unfriendly. I did not ask what he thought of Boulez's music, but he told me how much he admired his conducting of Berg'.
Delightfully informal header photo shows Pierre Boulez at the bar of his house in Baden Baden. Image credit from Joan Peyser's out of print but well worth getting hold of Boulez - composer, conductor, enigma (Schirmer ISBN 00287117007); Shostakovich merits just one mention in the book's index, Berg receives eighteen. Book quotation from Tainted by Experience by John Drummond (Faber ISBN 0571200540, also out of print). More priceless Drummond here.
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