Pablo Márquez remembers Boulez
I met Pierre Boulez in 1994, when he was searching for a second guitarist to perform with the Ensemble Intercontemporain, alterning with Marie-Thérèse Ghirardi, the regular guitar-partner of the ensemble since its creation in 1976. Laszlo Hadady, who was by then one of the oboists of the ensemble, introduced me to him, and as Boulez sat in one of the rehearsals rooms of the freshly new Cité de la Musique in Paris, I played for him a piece by a composer I knew he appreciated very highly, Elliott Carter (Changes). He was really positive about my performance, and promised to call me when an opportunity would appear.
The opportunity came one year later, when an integral of Berio's “Sequenze” was programed for the composer’s 70th birthday. Boulez suggested then my name to David Robertson, the musical director of the Ensemble at that time, telling him that I should present myself to the audition that would be held. Once more, it was Laszlo who warned me about this opportunity, some five weeks before the date. As I had never played the piece before (the Sequenza seemed too hermetic and misterious to me at the time), I had to invest all my energy in learning the piece during the remaining time until the audition, trying at once to understand it, to find its musical gestures and to solve its diabolic superhuman technical difficulties. As I knew, through some of the musicians of the Ensemble, that Berio wished that the Sequenzas should be played by heart, to enhance their theatrical aspects, I kept that in mind, and suceeded in memorizing it for the audition. David Robertson did choose me for doing these concerts, and I officially started working with the famous Ensemble Intercontemporain! The first of these two concerts was at the Festival Musica in Strasbourg, the city where I returned two years later to teach at the Conservatoire, and where I still live.
Thanks to this, I could eventually meet Luciano Berio in Florence, and play the Sequenza for him. He was so happy with my playing that he immediately proposed me to play Chemins V -the expanded version of the “Sequenza XI” for guitar and orchestra- with him in Zürich. Unfortunately, this concert never took place, due to the composer's advanced illness. But just the fact he thought about this possibility made me immensely happy, and the Sequenza became a milestone of my repertoire.
During all the years I lived in Paris, between 1988 and 1997, being a foreigner, I had great difficulties to obtain regular papers, in order to establish myself and have the right to get a regular teaching position in a conservatory. As I didn’t see any perspective of change about this problem, in 1996 I gathered all my courage and asked Boulez for an appointment, to see if he could help me. He was very kind, and wrote a letter to the Minister of Culture, who wrote a letter to the Minister of Labour, asking for a regular permission for me. After long months of anxious waiting I was convoked to the Ministry of Labour for an interview. Result: the permission, for reasons which still today remain incomprehensible, was refused. I seriously started thinking of leaving France. If Pierre Boulez could not help me stay in France, then nobody could.
Fortunately, a few months after that, I received a call to have an audition for a position at the Strasbourg Conservatoire, position which I eventually got. This prevented me from leaving. I could stay, and finally start building my life in France. By now I have become a French citizen, as well.
I had other wonderful occasions to play with the Intercontemporain, among others the première and the recording of Yan Maresz's Sul Segno and the French première of Kagel's Serenade for three players, and of course the priceless opportunity to work with the composers. But there was one occasion I unfortunately missed: taking part of Boulez last recording of his Le marteau sans Maître for Deutsche Grammophon. Rather than a missed occasion, I had a very difficult choice to make. I had to choose between that and a very important residency at the Abbaye de Royaumont, with Dino Saluzzi and Gerardo Gandini, which lead me eventually to meeting the producer Manfred Eicher and to my first collaboration with ECM Records, all of which was very important for my career.
One last (but not least) memory of Boulez, during the 2008 Festival d’Aix-en-Provence: I was playing Luca Francesconi’s wonderful piece for guitar and ensemble (“A Fuoco”) with the Intercontemporain, conducted by Susanna Mälkki. For various reasons, I had had very little time to learn the piece, and when I saw Boulez seating in the third row, my heart started beating a little bit faster than normal. But somehow his being there inspired me with confidence, and it was a quite successful performance in the end. He then told some of the musicians of the ensemble that they should keep me. During the same festival I could assist to one of most memorable concerts I ever had the fortune to hear: Boulez conducting the amazing Berlin Philharmonic. He was then 84 and had a phenomenal energy leading the orchestra in a very demanding program that included Alban Berg Drei Orchesterstücke Op.6, Ravel's left-hand piano concerto (with an unbelievable Pierre-Laurent Aimard as soloist), and his own Notations.
Even though I met him only a very few times, his influence in my life has been very big. For that, thank you, Maître Pierre Boulez!