In this amazing article writen for our Friends Newsletter in 2016, Dai Fujikura tells us about his time working with Boulez.
There is no need for me to tell you what Mr. Boulez (that’s what I always called him) did as a composer and conductor. It's also not necessary to remind anyone about how he radically changed the possibilities for music-making for so many composers around the world by his creation, advocacy and continual support for Ensemble Intercontemporain and IRCAM. I don’t think there's been another composer in the history of music who has done so much for other people and other composers.
Today I'd like to talk about my personal encounters with him. The first time I met him was at the Lucerne Festival in 2003. I was one of the finalists for the Lucerne Festival Academy’s composition project, among whom Mr. Boulez was to choose two young composers to write new orchestral works. The prize also included a workshop on the pieces with Mr Boulez a year before he would conduct their World Premieres. I remember how nervous I was at the thought of meeting him alone in an office room. I showed him two of my orchestral works. He was looking at the score of my most recent work at the time and asked:
“Now you have heard this piece of yours, what is your own criticism?
“There are many things to criticise,” I said.
I started listing the many problems I thought I had in that piece, telling him just how bad I thought my piece was. Half-way through my list he looked up from the score:
“It’s not that bad!” he chuckled.
For some reason, I was selected to write a new orchestral work for this project, Stream State. At the general rehearsal of Stream State, there was a moment when I couldn’t hear the piccolo at the climax of the piece. The whole orchestra was playing loudly and the piccolo just disappeared.
I told Mr. Boulez. He immediately looked at the orchestra and said:
“2nd trombone and percussion (1 of the 3) to play softer”
“That’s not what I…” Before I could finish my sentence, he turned to me: "Trust me"
He turned back towards the orchestra as he'd already given the downbeat for that bar. It was as if a fog had lifted. I could hear every note.
He was an extremely fast thinker - I could never finish my sentences when I was talking to him. He'd always answer before I’d finished, on point, and always very clear. On several occasions I'd see him sitting in the auditorium of my premieres, which was always quite scary. This is another thing I won’t forget. He'd come to me after each premiere and would say:
“Can you send me the score, it is not possible to understand complex music by hearing it just once.”
I always think of this statement when I see music critics writing concert reviews.
You might not believe this, but it is absolutely true that, of all the conductors I have worked with, he was one of the easiest people to approach. I could, and did, tell him anything during rehearsals (not every conductor makes me feel this way, I can tell you!) and his response would always be very simple and direct. To my eye, there was no “ego” thing with him, unlike some conductors.
Mr. Boulez (for me, at least) was always very logical. He served the music. He would remember everything, to the point of having an eidetic memory. I've met him quite often, as often as one can meet a big star. He'd always ask what I was doing, and where I was going next. Then, perhaps three months later, I'd see him after a concert, sometimes backstage, in whatever country, and he would ask how the concert of my music went three months before. I'd always have to try to remember what the concert was (not being blessed with Mr. Boulez's memory!)
I think that the thing I will miss the most about Mr. Boulez is his sense of humour. He always had a rather “cheeky” twinkle in his eyes and a very sharp humour. Indeed the sharpness of his humour verged on the scandalous…
We exchanged several letters during our acquaintance. He'd send hand written letters which I'd need to read using a magnifying glass. I was told he wrote small so that he wouldn’t waste energy. He was always warm and friendly. He'd talk about operatic vibrato. I'd talk about how a piece of mine, which was dedicated to him, nearly killed an audience member. You know, the usual stuff...
It is always surprising to me that, when I read what some musicologist journalists write about him, one gets a sense that he was cold, unhuman, analytical. To me, he was extremely warm with a smile which would always shine when he saw me. He was very easy to talk to, a simple and modest person. Like his music he was lyrical, with long phrases flowing elegantly and modestly underneath the resonant sounds punctuating his work, like a stars in the firmament.
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