The sun finally burned through theĀ  fog late Sunday afternoon, in time to lend its glow to the last measures of Pierre Boulez’s “Improvisations sur Mallarme” and, thus, to the end of the 43rd annual Ojai Festival. Even in the preceding chill and gloom, however, there had been warmth and light; the final all-Boulez concert was a stunning climax.
Many words, mostly adulatory, have been spilled over Boulez in this space since he betook himself hither a month ago — to lead the Los Angeles Philharmonic in three weekends at UCLA’s Royce Hall and now at Ojai. Yet this final concert, the only entire program of Boulez’ music during his stay, bore more than its share of revelations, as a stylistic survey of a musician who has devoted a lifetime to challenging old-fashioned artistic norms and exploring far horizons.
And so, in this final concert, we had the Boulez of 1949 in his “Livre pour Cordes,” aloof, abrasive, clearly an obeisance to the bristling atonality of the Schoenberg school, suggesting the far-fetched notion that design itself — removed from melodic shapes and other easy appeals to a hearer’s memory, not to mention his gut — might support an extended musical offering. On Saturday the Arditti Quartet had played the entire “Livre” in its original form; now, on Sunday, Boulez began his concert with his reworking of just the first section.
The Sunday concert then went on to a far later Boulez, the relaxed tone-spinner of recent decades, with two works, the “Eclat” of 1965 and theĀ  1985 “Memoriale.” The battles have now been won; here is the mature Boulez working with light and color, even now and there with a [ITAL soupcon [ENDITAL of charm. Lovely music, it received lovely performances, with the arabesques of the solo flute line in “Memoriale” beautifully retraced by the Philharmonic’s Anne Diener Giles.
Finally had come the Mallarme improvisations, completed in 1962 but many times revised since, repeats from the Los Angeles “Green Umbrella” and Royce Hall concerts, with Phyllis Bryn-Julson’s mastery of the vocal lines once again a source of wonderment. The three movements are, of course, merely the centerpiece of a longer work, “Pli selon pli.” Just by themselves, however, they stand as an extraordinary penetration into music, poetry, and the way the two arts intersect.
On Sunday morning there had been other delights in a marvelous concert by Ursula Oppens and Alan Feinberg. They are two of the most honored pianists in the service of new music, friends and neighbors in New York; still, this was their first joint concert, and the quality of their work together suggests that we may have all witnessed the birth of a great new team.
At Ojai they played only the most adventurous music — in which category I would certainly place their opening work, Mozart’s only two-piano sonata –ending with Bartok’s still-amazing Sonata for Pianos and Percussion (with Amy Knoles and William Winant beautifully managing the kitchenware), and lingering along the way at some vivid, finger-crushing works by Witold Lutoslawski and Gyorgy Ligeti. The performances, the works themselves — like everything else in this astonishing festival — were suffused with the joy of great music-making.