It could only happen in France

Adrian Dannatt on a Pierre Boulez tribute to a post-structuralist superstar
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Already a superstar of post-structuralist philosophy, Gilles Deleuze could hardly fail to attain further fame afterthrowing himself from his third-floor Paris apartment last October. The respect the French grant writers of oblique theoretical texts is alien to Anglo-Saxons, and it would be hard to imagine an English equivalent of the memorial concerts given by Pierre Boulez for his friend. Certainly a concert, say, conducted by Oliver Knussen in homage to Karl Popper would be unlikely to stir the crowds, but the two Boulez events sold out the day they were announced.

The venue, the recently completed Cite de la Musique by the modish architect Christian de Portzamparc, added to the soirees' cachet, this most elegant of material structures being located in the working-class arrondissement of La Villette, so as not to offend lingering Marxist sympathies.

As part of its egalitarian, educative intentions, Cite de la Musique opens its rehearsals to the public for free, the only disadvantage being that these take place at 10.30am, but for the magical combination of Boulez- Deleuze even the morning session was capacity. In fact, to see Boulez conduct a rehearsal is all the more Deleuzian, as he insists on playing works all the way through and only going back for corrections at the end. If Deleuze's themes are impossible to paraphrase, the structure of a reheasal under so strict a master as Boulez might serve as suitable metaphor: the repetition of short segments, the organic form of the work taken apart, put back together, the playing of certain notes again and again, attempting an impossible cohesion. Working with the relatively young Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Boulez demonstrated his supreme ability as a teacher, an extraordinary memory combined with unforgiving certainty regarding the precise coloration of every passage. Boulez recalled Deleuze's own role as legendary pedagogue, whose every class was packed with enthralled students. This rehearsal- lecture analogy was particularly clear in the first work, Stravinsky's aggressively rigorous Symphonies d'instruments a vent, a mathematic formality compromised by jazzy coloration which corresponded to Deleuze's combination of formal analysis and sensual enjoyment.

By comparison, Boulez's own Originel seemed almost lushly Debussian, though Pli selon pli (Fold According to Fold) would have seemed a more obvious choice considering Deleuze's crucial work on the concept of "the fold".

The rich sadness of Mahler's Kindertotenlieder (the equivalent of Clapton's "Tears in Heaven" in this context of death by window), ideally emoted by Wendy Hoffman, was offset by the opaque intelligence of Bartok's Musique pour cordes, percussion et celesta. Unafraid of sentiment or emotion while dedicated to cumulative analytic systems, between 12-tone strictness and Romantic nobility, neither modernist nor reactionary, Deleuze's way of thought, hence the texture of his life itself, was here ideally rendered.