Monday, March 30, 2015

Remembering More Than John Henken

Thanks to a post by Alex Ross to his The Rest is Noise blog, I found a link to the review John Henken wrote for the Los Angeles Times about an event at UCLA called An Evening With Pierre Boulez and Frank Zappa. Henken's opening words, deliberately cribbing from Abraham Lincoln, were, "The world will little note nor long remember what was said." For those who had not attended the event, it took a while to figure out why this was the case. It had nothing to do with either Boulez or Zappa or, for that matter, the relationship between them. (Zappa had been a guest at IRCAM; and the Boulez Conducts Zappa CD is still available from

Rather, the key factor in the evening being as unproductive as it was can be attributed entirely to the moderator for the event, David Raksin. For the benefit of those who do not recognize this name, Raksin composed the theme song for the movie Laura, a tune of awesome sophistication that has yet to be surpassed on any film soundtrack. He was also a pupil of Arnold Schoenberg, who supposedly once said to him something like, "Your music for Laura was excellent. Why do you want to compose twelve-tone music?"

Sadly, Raksin always seemed to feel that he needed more "reputable" credentials; and that conviction probably haunted him throughout his life. Thus, he tried to approach Boulez as an equal and Zappa as some insignificant upstart. He also annoyed the audience by dismissing questions submitted for both Boulez and Zappa as not worth asking, thus provoking annoyed catcalls from said audience. To some extent Henken was right: What was said was not particularly memorable, because Raksin all but prevented anything of significance from being said.

On the other hand, in the spirit of one of Alan Kaprow's happenings, the evening was unforgettable. Fortunately, it was memorable for at least one reason other than Raksin's reprehensible behavior. That was the only occasion on which I ever saw Boulez smile; and, as might be guessed, the smile was in response to one of Zappa's off-the-wall comments.

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