C1467. PIERRE BOULEZ Cond. Cleveland S.O.: Petrouchka (Stravinsky); w. GRANT JOHANNESEN: Piano Concerto #3 in C (Beethoven), Live Performance, 18/19 July, 1970, Blossom Music Festival. (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-377. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“Grant Johannesen was a sensitive player who was more interested in exploring musical byways that fascinated him than in repeating the warhorses of the repertory, and as a teacher, he advised his students to follow a similar path. That is not to say that he ignored the standard works entirely: throughout his six-decade career, his recital programs often included music by Bach, Beethoven or Chopin amid contemporary American works and French scores, and he made superb recordings of Chopin in the 1950's and of Schubert in the late 70s. Mostly, though, his focus was on the music of Fauré, Poulenc, Milhaud, Dukas and Saint-Saëns, which he played with a graceful touch and an incomparable ear for coloration and nuance.
Mr. Johannesen championed American music, too. On his first tour of the Soviet Union, in 1962, his main showpiece was Wallingford Riegger's ’Variations for Piano and Orchestra’, and he performed and recorded music by Copland, Mennin, Barber, Harris and Norman Dello Joio, as well as that of earlier American composers like Edward MacDowell and Louis Moreau Gottschalk. After a performance of Gershwin's Concerto in F that was broadcast on the radio early in his career, Mr. Johannesen received a telegram from Duke Ellington saying that Mr. Johannesen's performance was the best Gershwin playing he had heard. More recently, Mr. Johannesen performed works by Crawford Gates, and undertook a project to publish and record the works of his first wife, Helen Taylor, who died in an automobile accident in 1950.
When Robert Casadesus gave a recital in Salt Lake City in 1939, he listened to Mr. Johannesen play and invited him to study with him at Princeton. Mr. Johannesen also studied with the pianist Egon Petri and was a composition and music student of Roger Sessions in New York and of Nadia Boulanger at her conservatory at Fontainebleau, France.
Mr. Johannesen made his New York début in 1944 and undertook his first tour of Europe in 1949 as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic, having made his début with the orchestra two years earlier. Also in 1949, Mr. Johannesen won first prize at the Queen Elisabeth of Belgium International Music Competition. In the early 50's, he performed regularly on the ‘Bell Telephone Hour’ and other television and radio shows, and was at the top of his form as a recitalist.
Mr. Johannesen played frequently with the New York Philharmonic through the early 70s, but starting in the '50s devoted himself increasingly to touring South America, Europe and the Soviet Union, where he performed to great acclaim in 1962, as a soloist with the Cleveland Orchestra in 1965, and in 1970.
Mr. Johannesen taught for many years. As the director of the Cleveland Institute of Music from 1974 to 1985, he tried to persuade students to take time away from practicing to visit art museums and to rethink their ideas about musical careers. ‘It's relatively easy to impress people with technique and virtuosity, but I don't believe that's the point of making music’, he once told an interviewer. ‘Music contains ideas, and it's the responsibility of the artist to communicate those ideas’, he continued. ‘Anything less than that doesn't interest me’."
- Allan Kozinn, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 30 March, 2005
“’Audacity, innovation, creativity — that is what Pierre Boulez was for French music, which he helped shine everywhere in the world’.
Mr. Boulez belonged to an extraordinary generation of European composers who emerged in the postwar years while still in their 20s. They started a revolution in music, and Mr. Boulez was in the front ranks.
But his influence was equally large on the podium. In time he began giving ever more attention to conducting, where his keen ear and rhythmic incisiveness could produce a startling clarity. (There are countless stories of him detecting faulty intonation, say, from the third oboe in a complex piece.) He reached his peak as a conductor in the 1960s, when he began to appear with some of the world’s great orchestras, like the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Berlin Philharmonic and the Cleveland Orchestra. By the early ’70s, he had succeeded Leonard Bernstein as music director of the New York Philharmonic, an appointment that startled the music world and led to a fitful tenure. It was his reputation as an avant-garde composer and as a champion of new music that prompted his unexpected appointment in New York. After the initial shock at his arrival, there was hope that he might bring the orchestra into the 20th century and appeal to younger audiences. But his programming often met with hostility in New York, and he left quietly six years later. ‘I had to learn about that music, to find out how it was made’, he once told OPERA NEWS. ‘It was a revelation - a music for our time, a language with unlimited possibilities. No other language was possible. It was the most radical revolution since Monteverdi. Suddenly, all our familiar notions were abolished. Music moved out of the world of Newton and into the world of Einstein’. To start on this route, he took lessons in 1945-46 with René Leibowitz, a Schönbergian who had settled in Paris. Soon he was integrating what had been separate paths of development in the music of the previous 40 years: Schönberg’s serialism, Stravinsky’s rhythmic innovations and Messiaen’s enlarged notion of mode. As Mr. Boulez saw it, all these composers had failed to pursue their most radical impulses, and it fell to a new generation - specifically, to him - to pick up the torch.
‘He never ceased to think about subjects in relation to one another; he made painting, poetry, architecture, cinema and music communicate with each other, always in the service of a more humane society’, the office of President François Hollande said in a statement. Even so, the achievements embodied in his published works and recordings are formidable, and his influence was incalculable. The tasks he took on were heroic: to continue the great adventure of musical modernism, and to carry with him the great musical institutions and the widest possible audience.”
- Paul Griffiths, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 6 Jan., 2016