"It's really an obsession now," Boulez says. "I have composed most of 'Notation 8,' but I cannot finish it because of all the conducting I am doing, and you can't bring all the paper and materials with you. I am not a slow writer, I am an interrupted writer, which is much worse."
Boulez's conducting career has always interfered with his composing, and his schedule for this season would be impressive for a man half his age. On the podium Boulez appears as robust as ever. He has always liked quick tempos, and he hasn't slowed them down. "On the contrary," he says, "when I see lento" -- slow -- "in a score, I now realize that it is too easy to slow down in such a way that you lose continuity." What experience has taught him is to always think ahead. "I pay attention to that more now than even before."
But thinking ahead for Boulez also means he must, once and for all, substantially reduce his conducting schedule if he ever hopes to finish his many uncompleted works let alone fulfill new commissions. Of a violin piece, "Anthèmes 3," he says, "poor Anne-Sophie Mutter has been waiting for five years."
The Los Angeles Philharmonic has been after him for years to write something as well, but that is a commission he is unlikely to ever fulfill. Boulez now says he doesn't expect to return to Los Angeles, a town with which he has a long and important history, going back to his involvement with the Monday Evening Concerts in the '50s, where Boulez's most famous score, "Le Marteau Sans Maître" (The Hammer Without a Master), had its U.S. premiere. He has served repeatedly as music director of the Ojai Festival. And the L.A. Philharmonic was the first orchestra to welcome him back to the States after his New York Philharmonic years.
But given his age and schedule, Boulez finds L.A. too far to travel these days. He has a long-standing relationship with the Chicago Symphony, where he is conductor emeritus, and with Cleveland Orchestra, which was the first orchestra in America he worked with, and his future U.S. dates will be limited to those two Midwestern cities.
He does, though, have one last fling in Southern California. Boulez was awarded the Kyoto Prize last year. A Japanese version of the nobel prize given in the arts, philosophy, science and technology, it includes participation in a seminar in La Jolla. On April 22 at UC San Diego, he will speak about and conduct his chamber piece "Sur Incises" with the performers who played it with him at the Ojai Festival five years ago.
That's another transformation of a small piano piece. In this case, "Incises" became a glittery and spectacular 37-minute work for three pianos, three harps and three percussion instruments in 1998. The process, Boulez claims, transformed his thinking about new ways to give performers freedom.
His obsession with sketches has taken him in other interesting directions as well. Recently, Boulez was asked to guest curate an exhibition at the Louvre, and he chose to examine how visual artists treat sketches.
"When you see a watercolor of Cézanne you are absolutely flabbergasted by the quality," Boulez explains. "He did not want to show them, but he kept them." Boulez thinks of them as perfectly finished, and he says that he is fascinated by how our perspective is influenced if you call them sketches.
Is that a rationale for why, after 65 years, Boulez still has not finished his "Notations"? Those piano miniatures are gems that no one but he would see as incomplete. But for Boulez the path must always be up, and the climb never ends.