An Enigmatic ‘Evening With Boulez and Zappa’

The world will little note nor long remember what was said during “An Evening With Pierre Boulez and Frank Zappa” at UCLA. Should it care, the affair--part of the ongoing Festival Boulez--was videotaped.

“Let’s think of this as an aleatoric entertainment event,” Zappa urged the capacity crowd in Schoenberg Hall Auditorium at one point Tuesday. On those terms, as a muted triumph of personality over content, the evening was not without simple--and simplistic--charms.

Revelations in the dialogue, moderated by David Raksin, were few. The conversation ranged from Boulez’s earnest description of how he tunes individual chords in Webern’s orchestral music to Zappa’s equally serious explanation of where he found his theory that AIDS is the result of a CIA conspiracy.

Boulez in particular proved unexpectedly reticent. Asked for his feelings about the work of some contemporaries such as Schnittke, Lutoslawski and Gubaidulina, Boulez said: “I prefer to keep my opinions to myself.” Asked what he attempts to bring to listeners in a performance, he responded: “I cannot tell you. I don’t know what it is that I convey.”

He did confide his impression of minimalism: “If I may be nasty, I think it is minimal.” Zappa, for his part, claimed never to have heard a piece by Philip Glass, or indeed, to listen to anything recreationally except a Boulez recording of Webern.


Zappa’s comments covered mostly familiar ground, from his dissatisfaction with the Music Business and his low regard for rock journalism--"Compared to Rolling Stone, there’s a wealth of information (in Hustler)"--to the futility of composing in the United States today and his frustrations with performance standards--The most important goal in his life? “I’m still waiting for an accurate performance.”

Regarding future projects, Zappa discussed the “world orchestra” of ethnic and electronic instruments which he has proposed to the authorities planning the 1992 world’s fair in Seville, saying he will be leaving for Spain soon to discuss an offer to finance the project.

Boulez said his most important project was a series of concerts of music by young composers, to be given in Paris in the fall. His name has come up as a possible candidate for some of the currently vacant music director positions, but in a press-only tune-up before the evening’s program officially began, he reiterated his disinclination for such work: “I don’t want to be in charge of an orchestra anymore. I want to concentrate on composition and research.”

The liveliest confrontations of the evening came not between the two erstwhile iconoclasts, but between Raksin and the audience. Ushers collected written questions from the audience, which Raksin read to Zappa and Boulez, with much derisive commentary on the intelligence and relevance of the questions.

That produced heckling from the audience, including the suggestion that their questions compared favorably to those of Raksin, who saw fit to ask Zappa and Boulez for their comments on the songs of Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern. There were also frequent shouted demands from the audience for more sound amplification.

One suspects that John Cage--who was the butt of considerable affectionately contemptuous kidding--would have reveled in the contradictory, theater-of-the-absurd evening.