Pierre Boulez is on the line from Paris, affable but also to the point. He is an interviewer’s dream, listening to a question, then diving in and answering the actual question asked, in neat paragraphs, no evading. When finished, there is a full stop and a pause as he waits for the next question. He seems perfectly willing to go on like this for as long as it takes.
The effect is at once friendly and businesslike. It’s the kind of balancing act one might expect from Pierre Boulez. The 78-year-old French musician, one of the most influential composers of the post-World War II era and among the most richly gifted conductors ever to stand on a podium, makes a practice of such balancing acts. Much of his art, in fact, depends on them.
“There is a piece by (Denis) Diderot which is called ‘The Paradox of the Comedian,’ ” says Boulez, mentioning the 18th-century French philosophe by way of shedding light on his own performing aesthetic. “And he says that a good comedian is one who imposes a certain distance between emotion and what he can do. He transmits this emotion in a much stronger way when he has this kind of distance.