Daily Bow: Beethoven and Boulez go to the Proms

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Barenboim Mixes Beethoven and Boulez at the Proms

There’s such a wide variety of music out there these days that one rarely gets a chance to hear all of it live. Even if we just stick with the classics, it’s hard for many to claim that they’ve seen all of a specific composer’s output live in concert, at least in recent memory. With modern modern music, it becomes even more of a challenge; performances of Terry Riley’s “In C” or the many works by Pierre Boulez are extremely hard to come by in mainstream venues.

What’s even more unusual than the above, however, is when both the classics and new works stand side by side in concert. Such an occurrence took place last week at, of all places, the BBC Proms. Daniel Barenboim led the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in a complete Beethoven cycle last week. Each concert was composed of two of the symphonies separated by the music of Pierre Boulez. While the Beethoven showed the WEDO in its fully capacities, the Boulez interspersed between gave soloists and small ensembles a chance to shine. Featured works included Dérive 2, Dialogue de l-ombre double, Messagesquisse, and Le marteau sans maître, among others. The shift from full orchestra to chamber music and back provided an intriguing change of pace in the performance; the ensemble changed throughout the evening rather than remaining static.

Barenboim’s choice of programming is an excellent idea, particularly in this venue. Many people are not familiar with Boulez’s output beyond a few pieces. This is unfortunate: Boulez is one of the most influential living composers of the past century and his music is often relegated to recordings and small hall performances. The opportunity to hear his works in Albert Hall, juxtaposed by Beethoven, is a significant step towards keeping classical music a living, breathing art. While nearly everyone would agree that Beethoven is great and that his complete symphonic output deserves to be performed, it is important to remember that music is being composed in the here and now as well. Putting new music on the stage along with established masterworks seems to be the best way to embrace the new and honor the old. Hopefully we’ll more of this kind of programming at future Proms!

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