In Boulez’s Tracks

Simeon Morrow  - Maestro Pierre Boulez
Left photo: Simeon Morrow (centre) with European friends • Right photo: Boulez portrait

GOING TO EUROPE TO FOLLOW PIERRE BOULEZ

WAS A GOAL SIMEON MORROW WAS INTENT ON REALIZING.


Acting on his desire, the McGill graduate pocketed the money he saved up conducting a youth orchestra in his hometown of Plattsburg, N.Y. and embarked on his month and a half pilgrimage following Boulez and his Ensemble Intercontemporain across Europe.
“I wanted to get a sense of the European style of orchestral playing, to see how it was different from what happens in North America,” explains the director and founder of the Ensemble for Humanity. “We always think that the grass is greener on the other side but I discovered that for the Europeans it’s the same thing – they look to what is done here,” says Morrow. “I remember speaking with oboist, László Hadady, who told me, ‘But everyone knows the Montreal Symphony Orchestra is the best orchestra in the world’,” a comment Morrow heard on numerous occasions.

Organizing his trip was a relatively simple affair. While studying at IRCAM (Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique / Musique) in 2001, Morrow had the opportunity to meet a lot of people, including Boulez’s secretaries. He contacted them when planning his trip to ask if he could attend Boulez’s rehearsals. When the Boulez disciple arrived in Paris at the end of May 2004, the ensemble had just begun rehearsals at Ircam. On the program were Répons, a 45 minute electro-acoustic piece for chamber ensemble and six soloists playing two pianos, harp, vibraphone, glockenspiel and cimbalom, as well as Anthèmes II, a 20 minute piece for violin and electronics composed from 1992-1997. For Morrow, the experience was astounding.  “Boulez is just amazing. I admire the way he conducts physically. He doesn’t use a baton. Some people say he isn’t expressive but I think what he does is subtle. On the contrary, he’s very powerful and extremely expressive. He listens more than many other conductors.”
From Paris, Morrow took an overnight train to Vienna and continued his budget-style journey. “I stayed in youth hostels where I met a lot of young people, which was nice.” Morrow was not however what might be called the most typical of youth hostel inmates. “I always got dressed up in a suit to go to rehearsals, which had the other people staying in the hostel asking me what I was doing. They were more interested in sight-seeing of course.”
The Ensemble Intercontemporain presented two concert programs at the Vienna Contemporary Art Museum. One of these was for the Wiener Festwochen and included Boulez’s Répons, Stravinsky’s Renard, Manuel de Falla’s Les Tréteaux de Maître Pierreand Schönberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. “It was brilliant to watch him work,” says Morrow who remembers observing the then 79 year-old Boulez walk around the huge room, going from one seat to another.
“Finally he sat in the corner of the room, stopped the rehearsal and told the players: ‘You can’t hear the pizzicata very well from here.” He didn’t pay any attention when the engineers told him it was the worst seat in the house. “I remember asking Boulez,” says Morrow “’How do you make it so that everyone hears?’ His answer was to say that you have to keep trying. He really makes sure the score is presented to all people in the audience.”
Morrow took advantage of being in the capital of classical music to take in some other concerts. He recollects rushing from a Boulez concert and buying a standing place ticket to hear Simon Rattle conduct Schönberg’s orchestration of Brahms’s G-minor Piano Quartet. The conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker was also in town conducting Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony while the Opernhaus orchestra performed Berlioz’s Requiemunder the baton of Seiji
Ozawa.
Morrow learned a valuable lesson while he was in Europe “No matter where you are, there is room for improvement. You have to know your craft, and the greatest thing you can bring to it is your individuality.” Morrow is doing just that, as he focuses his energy on his Ensemble for Humanity. If all goes well, the Montreal-based ensemble will have its own concert series at the Centre Pierre-Péladeau next season.

From “the muscic scene” magazine: Summer 2005 page 27.

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