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Pierre Boulez: Juxta Positions
Pierre Boulez Juxta Positions
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
NR     2006     2hr 22min


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Movie Details

Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
Sub-Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Classical
Studio: Juxtapositions
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 02/21/2006
Original Release Date: 01/01/2006
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2006
Release Year: 2006
Run Time: 2hr 22min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 0
Edition: Classical
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English, French, German, Spanish
Subtitles: Dutch, English, French, German, Japanese, Spanish

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Movie Reviews

Superb DVD in a series focusing on contemporary music
Mike Birman | Brooklyn, New York USA | 04/06/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Juxtapositions is a DVD collection focusing on contemporary music. The ongoing DVD series wields a wide net, covering composers as disparate as Mahler and Arvo Part. This release spotlights the modern master Pierre Boulez and two important works: Eclat for fifteen instruments created in 1965 and Sur Incises for three pianos, three harps and three percussion instruments which was composed between 1996-1998. Sur Incises is a spin-off of his Incise for solo piano, written in 1994 for a piano competition directed by Maurizio Pollini. Boulez appears in both films. The first film, Eclat, directed by Frank Scheffer, is a fascinating documentary about the work. We witness rehearsals by the Netherlands' Nieuw Ensemble, hear comments about the piece from the composer, conductor Ed Spanjaard and some of the musicians, and we see a full performance of the work. Eclat ("To burst out") is a beautiful example of the strangely lyrical pointillist style that Boulez had inherited from Anton von Webern. Aural pinwheels and shifting musical kaleidoscopes with stunning instrumental color is the only way to verbally describe what must be heard to be understood. This is definitely not for those who hate "modern" music. For those who respond to contemporary music, this piece is masterful and this film is a must-see!

The second film, Sur Incises, directed by Andy Sommer, features a stunning performance of the piece following a lecture by Boulez in front of a predominantly young audience from the stage of the concert hall of the Cite de la Musique, one of France's many cultural complexes. Of course, one is immediately reminded of Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts. Ironically, Boulez succeeded Bernstein as conductor of the New York Philharmonic in 1969. Boulez has combined concerts with impromptu lectures before. I attended all 7 evenings of the fantastic "Rug Concerts" series Boulez gave in 1973. He wanted to create an informal atmosphere in which to hear modern music, reducing the level of intimidation listeners often feel in a concert environment. We sat on pillows on stage: I weaseled my way next to the conductor, sitting at his feet, thrilled beyond measure. I even found myself sitting next to Shostakovich one memorable evening. He listened to a style of music he was probably forbidden by Soviet authorities to hear (and certainly compose) with rapt fascination and occasional amusement. The piece I recall most vividly that he found absorbing was the then recent (1970) George Crumb composition Ancient Voices of Children, with Jan DeGaetani the singer.

Sur Incises reflects Boulez's late fascination with the caribbean steel drum as well as his current interest in lengthy compositions. It is a powerful, highly rhythmic, semi-aleatoric piece with shifting groups of conversing instruments reminiscent of the Baroque concerto grosso dialog between the ripieno and the concertino. It's obviously a fiendishly difficult score to play. Boulez conducts the nine soloists of the Ensemble Intercontemporain, who follow him with obvious pleasure and play with matchless facility and skill. Their proficiency is stunning. I found the piece challenging to grasp intellectually but great visceral fun to listen to. Boulez's comments are often fascinating: illuminating both the piece and the man as a composer who is frequently misunderstood, even vilified. I get the distinct feeling that at the end of his career, Boulez is attempting to reach out and soften the undeniable difficulties audiences find in his music. If you are sympathetic to his sound world, you will respond to his explanations. If not, you probably won't. It's that cut-and-dried. I enjoy contemporary music, but it is (unfortunately) an acquired taste, even for serious listeners of Classical music. You should probably avoid this disc if you dislike modern music; you are unlikely to enjoy it (though you may still find the lectures and discussions fascinating). If you have no difficulty appreciating the astringent tonalities and merciless logic of contemporary music, you will probably think this disc superb and treasure it as I do.

This DVD has a format of NTSC worldwide. The first film, Eclat, was shot full-screen with a 4:3 picture format. The second film, Sur Incises, was shot widescreen with a 16:9 picture format. The films are crystal clear. The sound is Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and is superb with wonderfully clear and precise spatial localization of instruments, absolutely crucial for this music. Languages are English, French, German, Spanish, Chinese and Dutch. Extras include a DVD-ROM section with multilingual booklet files, a video catalog and a short film Ring by Frank Scheffer. The running time of the disc is 142 minutes. The booklet is especially informative with several essays, a discography and photos. A really nice release in all respects.

If you respond to contemporary music then I strongly recommend this DVD, essential for understanding where Boulez is now and how he views his legacy. If you dislike modern music, this DVD is not for you: unless you are extremely open-minded and are capable of (rapid) musical growth and flexibility. I loved this DVD! This is definitely an acquired taste but it may help you to acquire it, if you let it.

Mike Birman"
Revelatory, a must-have for any Boulez fan
Christopher Culver | 06/26/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This DVD, one of the latest in Juxtapositions' excellent series on contemporary music, collects two documentaries about French composer Pierre Boulez. It has so much to recommend itself in its coverage of a perpetually underappreciated composer, its helpfulness in understanding the works better, and its 142 minutes of video when classical labels all too often charge full-price for less than an hour.

First up is ECLAT, a 1994 documentary by Frank Scheffer that has conductor Ed Spanjaard and the Amsterdam-based Nieuwe Ensemble preparing to perform Boulez's 1965 piece "Eclat". The piece was written during Boulez's phase of letting the performer decide the order of events the work (like the Third Piano Sonata, and the first version of "Pli selon pli"). The particular freedom of "Eclat" consists in the conductor being able to decide and signal to the ensemble what section of the work to do at any given junction. Much of the film consists of Spanjaard trying to introduce the instrumentalists to this difficult concept where what comes next could be unpredictable. Boulez comes onto the scene to coach Spanjaard and the ensemble's pianist, and explains a little about the inspirations for the piece, such as Paul Klee's painting. One often hears that Boulez is a stern taskmaster, able to drive instrumentalists to tears, but here we see a gentle fellow who is full of patience. And instead of an academic more mathematician than musician, as musical conservatives all too often accuse, Boulez comes across here as a sort of musical trickster, whose piece seeks to be honestly fun and entertaining for those who perform it. The documentary ends with a complete performance of the piece. This documentary certainly got me to finally understand the beauty of the piece, which before seemed impenetrable.

The second documentary, by Helene Jarry and Andy Sommer, revolves around Boulez's "Sur Incises" for three pianos, three harps, and three percussionists (1997-1998). This is a masterpiece expansion of his "Incises" for solo piano, an exploration of the instrument's resonance and the performer's virtuosity with lots of lovely glissandi and bounding from bass to treble and back again. In expanding it, Boulez seems to have (to use one metaphor said also about his "Notations II" for orchestra) looked at the original piece with a microscope and discovered more notes, for each gesture of the piano version is lengthened and bounced around the instrumentalists, displaying a new richness of colour in the process.

The documentary, filmed at the Cite de la Musique, consists of Boulez's explanation of the piece before a full performance of it by the Ensemble Intercontemporain. The entire idea of a lecture on the piece was Jarry's, and she succeeded in having Boulez prepare a presentation of the utmost simplicity for an audience mainly of secondary-school children and the public. Boulez's talk assumes no knowledge of music theory, but Boulez speaks instead about general structural matters, such as repeated motifs (one he calls a musical "slap"), and his appreciation for exotic timbres, especially the Carribean steel drums used in the second movement. The soloists on the full performance that follows are the same as on Deutsche Grammophon's 2000 recording. All in all, though, I think that the performance on CD is slightly better, and certainly the CD has better sound, its recording having been done at IRCAM whose staff are experts with this sort of thing.The DVD's sound is rather lacking, and on a media that could have had true surround sound we only get Dolby Digital 2.0, i.e. plain stereo. Still the DVD is still valuable in appreciating certain facets of the work, and it's simply an awesome experience to see virtuosi musicians tacking this extremely demanding score. Hideki Nagano and Dmitri Vassilakis, especially, are godlike in their nonchalant handling of the piano parts, and only on the DVD can one fully appreciate the many difficulties that confront the percussionists.

This is a must-have fan any fan of Boulez, and it just might win over those modern-classical fans who don't just get the infamous Frenchman and his music yet."
Wonderfully explicit
scarecrow | Chicago, Illinois United States | 04/19/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"you may have forgotten about Boulez's Eclat, it is a quite beuatiful work from the Sixties, with cimbalom,this Eastern concpet of timbre exposed;i.e.lots of gently,tremoli clanging instruments as piano and harp,xylophone also winds for the sustaining power, one trumpet, one trombone. Here we are given an educational rehearsal with Ed Spaanjard, in his spartan-like studio which is a storefront in Amsterdam I beleive,so while the rehearsal proceeds you have traffic flowing by,ubiquitous bright yellow buses with marking for men working on the street, like a counterpoint.(Walter Benjamin would say one realm of production is dependant on the other, a state of repetition prior to the creation of culture,so here the two are fused indeterminately)Someone needs to do both to learn the Boulez to play but to get to the rehearsal on the street. In no way is this distracting, and you cannot hear car or pavement noises. Boulez then speaks with Spaanjard on the work,who we see studying the score at the piano with numerous colour pencil markings the problem areas, where there exists moments, passages of freedom, to be cued, and Boulez simply says, "it is how I am feeling, how I cue this, the rate and frequency. Tones are given without rhythm at times and the musicians get to decide what and when these tones, (in boxes if I recall correctly) get played. This is both a gentle unassuming work, and one with spots, slams of power. The title means fragments, and also can mean "burstings" I translate it as "force of colour" or "fragments of colour", "fragments of force" perhaps.

Then as the other reviewer more specifically defines describes than I will, the "Sur Incises" based on a piano solo written earlier. Boulez has been fond of this re-working, re-visiting materials and works, as his "Notations for Orchestra", to see yet another reading, interpretation.This is very post-modern where the creation is upon something that already exists,sort of inside out composing, Since the conducting experience never grows stale, Pierre certainly utilizes his forever newly acquired knowledge of the resonance and timbre of instruments, their mixtures, and combinatorial trajectories. The piece actually simply develops extends the tones of the initial piano solo, a work wrutten for a competition. So we have this educational content here further developed with three pianos, and three harps,much like Stravinsky's "Les Noces" also an interesting array of percussion with steel drums, hit with felt hammers more a dull basso timbre, than the usually or unusually bright metallic, also chimes, The work really hasn't much to say, it is more to learn than to listen which has been a powerful tool within Boulez's career. The work progresses much like a toccata, and you cannot help think of the repeated single-note(s) etude of late Debussy. Boulez admirable explains each new development or extension as it occurs to further engage the listening experience." You have a slam, Yes, then an extension with the piano . . ."" then another idea, Yes. . . " I am paraphrasing here. The visual editing is quite wonderfully done,from the heights as well as "in-your-face" up close especially the Eclat, where you hear the musicians going over passages from the work, isolated, and the conductor at the piano.Scheffer here allows you to see more the musicians where he doesn't on the two Mahler DVDs.

There should be more DVDs now on contemporary expression to further clarify all those who still say this is not music,incomprehensible ad nauseum. Well check your brain at the cash box."
Boulez, the great master.
Francisco Yanez Calvino | Santiago de Compostela, GALIZA, Spain. | 06/06/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Boulez is, with no doubt, one of the key figures in the last century, and one of the great fathers of nowadays contemporary music and conducting. This DVD, part of the outstanding Juxtaposition series is a new step in order to know him much more better in his different occupations, as composer, conductor, assistant, teacher... as a real man of cultural, one of those is creating the ways of art and understanding all the time.

We have in this documentary two films, first one about Eclat, including the performance of that piece, and the other one about the genesis and developing of Boulez's piece Sur Incises.

The first film shows, basically, Ed Spaanjard's work conducting Eclat, one of those pieces from Boulez not very known by the public, but which has some of the master lines of Boulez in the `60s (1965, Eclat, for 15 players), as the brief concretion of the timbre, or the play with the different aspects and rates of total serialism: high, duration, intensity, timbre, and space, in this case, as Boulez gives space and important role on construction of the piece and the sound relation between the instruments, some of them even not European. In a very concise and weberian style, the piece allows the conductor to set some things by his/her own, like Ed Spaanjard does, but many times with the help of the own Boulez in his studio, where they analyse this complex and multiple score. We can watch Ed analysing the work alone, with the piano, or rehearsing with the players alone, with groups of them and finally with the complete ensemble, in their studio in Amsterdam, a place of great windows opened to the streets, where life is non stop while they try to go into the complex notes of Boulez. Conducting is very important in this work, Eclat, and the fingers of Ed Spaanjard become a group of symbols to guide and explain the combinations to the players, who have, in some cases, the decision of the way they prefer to play, a kind of `semi-open work' in the style Eco described in his `opera aperta', that central book about the art which is not fixed in composer's hands; as it's basically referred to interpretation.

Very interesting works by Boulez and very intimate description of a conductor role in discovering and living the score as different paths to explore.

At the end of the documentary we can watch & listen Eclat performed by Spaanjard's ensemble, in a clear performance, very good, but still under own Boulez's conducting of this piece for CBS/Sony, my favourite version... We still wait, Pierre records it for DG.

Second film is really a conference, or a concert-explained that Boulez conducts in Paris. He talks to the public about Sur Incises, that piece many of us know from DG recording on Boulez's conducting. Himself explain the genesis of the piece on a demand Berio and Pollini made to him of a piece brilliant and technical to have a `tour de force' for a piano contest. That's the way how Incises, for piano, was born. From that moment, Boulez have the necessity of developing that piece, in the typical `work in progress' Boulez had been working in during the last years, as the own Pli selon Pli, another example, or the orchestration of Notations. Boulez combines different instruments to reach the final combination. All the process can be watched in these very interesting film, not very usual, as is not very common to have a possibility like this to know the growing of a composition.

Very fine image and sound in the two films, specially in Sur incises. 4:3 the first one and 16:9 the second. More than 140 minutes. Lot of subtitles available and very good sound too. Interesting booklet, in a very complete pack.

A very recommended DVD for all those who love contemporary music, and specially for Boulez fans.