Ear Supply: Arrières-pensées

Even young Turks can get nostalgic: That’s perhaps one lesson to be learned from Pierre Boulez’s Notations. These brief orchestral movements were derived from a set of 12 piano pieces he wrote in 1945, when he was 20 and making a name as one of the most belligerent of storm-the-ramparts modernists. (Listen to the stale creme fraiche that constituted the mainstream of French music at the time, and you’ll sympathize.) Then again, Boulez has refashioned his existing pieces into new ones his entire career, ever eager to take his musical materials and concepts down unexplored paths, ever reluctant to let good ideas sit locked away in completed works.

The first four of the reworked Notations, which the Seattle Symphony is playing this weekend, were finished in 1980. (He’s since done a few more, and supposedly intends to get around to all 12.) What were violent virtuoso gestures in the original are transformed and expanded into skittering flashes of light and lush eruptions of color. In its lurid rhythmic thrust, the Notation no. 2 is the one that most reminds me of the music of Boulez’s teacher Messiaen, and anyone who loved the SSO’s performance of Messiaen’s Turangalila last winter will relish what sounds rather like a highly concentrated condensation of it. Conductor Ludovic Morlot will couple the Notations with Mahler’s Sixth Symphony; I’m not sure how the four tiny movements, just three, two, five, and two minutes long, will fill the concert’s first half by themselves. Maybe he’ll play them twice? A second run-through wouldn’t hurt, to pick up more of what you’ll miss the first time Boulez’s sensory-overload extravagance hurtles past.

Benaroya Hall, Third Ave. & Union St., 215-4747, seattlesymphony.org. $19–$112. 7:30 p.m. Thurs., Nov. 7, 8 p.m. Sat., Nov. 9.

 
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