CLASSICAL MUSIC / Classical Music

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The Independent Culture
It may not be part of the Barbican Centre's permanent refurbishment, but they have been busy fitting it out with wall-to-wall Boulez. For the French musician's 70th-birthday celebrations the Barbican's resident London Symphony Orchestra is the pri ncipalvehicle of a concert series that gets under way there on Sunday and later moves to Paris, Vienna, New York and Tokyo. Pierre Boulez himself (below) conducts the eight concerts, and star guests include Daniel Barenboim, Jessye Norman, Anne-Sophie M utter, Maurizio Pollini, Kyung-Wha Chung and Mstislav Rostropovich - all adding up to quite some party.

Considering that he used to be one of the terror names of 20th-century "difficult'' composition, the scale of the tribute is astonishing. But while it will attract cynicism in Paris, where he has wielded power over the new-music scene to the point of paralysis, the attitude of Londoners is more relaxed. That's because over here he has been conductor first, composer second. Now that his firebrand years in charge of the BBC Symphony Orchestra are well in the past, he is often regarded with genuine affection as a down-to-earth, non-maestro figure who can reveal the secrets of Stravinsky, Bartok and Berg. What he did for the performance of all these composers will not be lightly forgotten.

Each concert has a work of Boulez's own, some of them tough going, some of them positively mellow, all of them sensuous, refined and quick-thinking. Significantly, though, it's the repertoire of the early century that dominates the birthday series: Stravinsky's Petrushka and Rite of Spring, Bartok concertos and the Miraculous Mandarin ballet, gorgeous early songs by Berg, brilliant scores by Debussy and Ravel. With the LSO offering generous rehearsal times, expect a feast for the ears.

22, 24, 26, 29 Jan, 2, 5, 8, 9 Mar, Barbican Hall, EC2 (071-638 8891)