The Musikfest opens with an homage to one of music’s great figures as it progressed through the second half of the 20th and into the 21st century. Musical life in Berlin has much to thank the composer and conductor Pierre Boulez for. In concerts at the Musikfest Berlin his works, ranging from the early piano sonatas through Marteau sans maître and Pli selon pli to Répons and his later elaborations on early sketches such as the Notations, often seemed to crystallize key aspects of the programme. With the Ensemble intercontemporain he had founded and as a guest conductor of Berlin’s orchestras he presented programmes that illuminated history from the perspective of contemporary music.
Boulez called his commemorative work Rituel for his friend and colleague Bruno Maderna, who died in Darmstadt in 1973, a “ceremony of remembrance in which there are numerous repetitions of the same formulas in constantly changing profiles and perspectives.” The orchestra is divided into eight groups. Groups one to seven consist of one to seven strings or woodwind, each accompanied by one percussionist, while the eighth group consists of 14 brass players and two percussionists. For a performance at the Berlin Philharmonie Boulez created a special configuration that allowed all of the groups to be seen and heard from every seat. Daniel Barenboim will use the same configuration for this opening concert.
The stringently objective manner in which Boulez conducted Stravinsky’s Sacre made what was emotionally and culturally disturbing in this pioneering score all the clearer. For both Boulez the conductor and the composer it would remain a key work of reference that he would repeatedly place in new contexts in relation to other pieces.
Pierre Boulez and Daniel Barenboim made their debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker together, Boulez conducting with Barenboim as the pianist. That was in 1964: Boulez was 39 and Barenboim just 21 years young. Since then the two artists shared an ever closer friendship. Testimony to this in architectural form is the Pierre Boulez Saal in the Barenboim-Said Academy, a space for concentration and experimentation.