Boulez-Centered MusicNOW Review – Music Most Abstract


A landmark in “new” music, Dérive 2 is Boulez’ detailed experimentation with tempi shifts from beat to beat.  Originally composed in 1988, it has had two further iterations in 2002 and 2006.  It was pointed out in the pre-performance remarks that unlike other revised works that are typically shortened this one grew in length each time.  



As the conductor and student of Boulez, Cliff Colnot, shared, this approximately hour long Dérive 2 is extremely demanding on the performers who must be on the top of their game to keep pace with the shifting tempi and other deviations upon deviations upon deviations that this piece is.  Literally Dérive means the drifting off course of an airplane in response to wind or currents. 



We too, the audience, got a workout keeping up.  Many times within each minute Boulez seems to flirt with giving you a hint of more traditional melody or other pattern but it’s not really there for the taking.  As Gerard McBurney who created the Beyond the Score presentation on Boulez said in the intro, the piece does leave you hanging.  More, it is actually an hour’s long sensation of the scene about you rapidly shifting with terra firma remaining elusive.


This is abstract music at its most abstract.  There was very keen interest in this piece from the audience, many of whom sprang to their feet while clapping at its conclusion.



Interestingly, Mason Bates’ five minute piece that preceded, “Indigo Workshop” was described by Bates as being like a rumor that keeps returning until it is fully fleshed out at the end.   While Boulez’ work was all about doing anything but returning, this was a neat exploration of permutations and elaborations of a bluesy sketch. This was a solo pianist work that was easy to digest and latch on to. 



The first piece, “Postponeless Creature” was another Anna Clyne work inspired by the poetry of Emily Dickinson. 



With harpsichord and sound-of-doom chords moving from background to fore and returning to background, three female voices sing out the words of a short poem describing death stalking at the door.



For many of us, it’s difficult to imagine anyone going to a MusicNOW concert and not having our entire notion of what music is stretched to new boundaries. 



Then again, in the pre-concert crowd Yo-Yo Ma was happily mingling and posing for fan selfies.  He was nowhere to be found in the post-concert pizza and beer party that followed this, as every, MusicNOW concert.  



It’s a tribute to the MusicNOW format that the concerts have something for musicians on par with Ma and the neophyte to new music too.




The next concert in the MusicNOW series will be on June 1, 2015 at the Harris Theater and will feature two jazz performers, John Zorn and Myra Melford.


For tickets call the Chicago Symphony Orchestra box office at
312-294-3000 or visit the Chicago Symphony Orchestra website.




Photos:  Todd Rosenberg unless otherwise indcated




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