Franz Liszt at 200
“Boulez plans to make quite a thing of Liszt this season,” Richard Freedman wrote in the in Oct. 29, 1971, issue of Life magazine. How things have changed, and not just the fact that popular mainstream magazines had music reviews facing dandruff shampoo ads.
This was the beginning of Pierre Boulez’s music directorship of the New York Philharmonic, and this Modernist conductor and avant-garde intellectual French conductor felt that Liszt was ignored and worth investigating as a progressive who had a huge influence on music.
Now 40 years on, no one at any major orchestra is taking up that Liszt challenge, despite the fact this year is the 200th anniversary of the Hungarian composer’s birth and that, as the first superstar musician, Liszt is more relevant than ever in our age of the celebrity.
But André Watts, whom Boulez invited to participate in his New York Liszt project, is still at it. He played Liszt's Second Piano Concerto at the Hollywood Bowl this summer.
And so is Boulez, who has just made a revelatory recording of the two piano concertos, this time with Daniel Barenboim as soloist. That and a slew of other recordings makes the Liszt at 200 list, which can be found in this Sunday's critic’s notebook.
-- Mark Swed
Photo: Conductor Leonard Slatkin and pianist André Watts perform Liszt's Second Piano Concerto at the Hollywood Bowl. Credit: Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times