Interlochen faculty member performs in Boulez tribute

  • Ara Sarkissian (right) and Pierre Boulez during a Lucerne Festival Academy workshop. (Summer 2009)
    Credit: Priska Ketterer/Lucerne Festival

  • Pierre Boulez and members of the Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra. (Summer 2009)
    Credit: Georg Anderhub/Lucerne Festival

For those invested in classical music, perhaps there is little left to be said about the importance that French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez had on the artistic community in the 20th century. As New York Times reporter Aurelien Breeden said in his Jan. 7, 2016 retrospective, "... the achievements embodied in his published works and recordings are formidable, and his influence was incalculable." Breeden's in memoriam was just one of many to be published shortly after Boulez’s passing on Jan. 5, 2016.

As reverential as the prose may have been, a conceivably more appropriate memorial for Boulez would come not from words but with sound. At least, that’s the idea behind the Lucerne Festival’s March 20, 2016 Memorial Concert for Pierre Boulez in Lucerne, Switzerland. On that night, an orchestra comprised of Lucerne Festival Academy alumni from three continents will come together to pay tribute to the man who founded the program back in 2003.

One alumnus making the trip to Switzerland is Interlochen’s Orchestra Conductor and Violin Instructor Ara Sarkissian. Sarkissian had the distinct privilege of performing under Boulez's direction as a member of the Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra. For this trip, however, Sarkissian will perform pieces by Berg, Stravinsky and Pierre Boulez under Matthias Pintscher. The former composers were chosen specifically as two artists that Boulez admired in his lifetime.

"Exposure to his mentality, musicianship and conducting shaped me the most in my postgraduate years. He gave me an appreciation for standards and integrity," Sarkissian recalled of his time working under Boulez's direction. "He was a charming man who was a celebrity among us students, so when he walked in, things would get quiet. He was soft spoken and unerring in his directions.”

From 2007-11, Sarkissian had the chance to work with Boulez in both large and small ensembles at the Lucerne Festival Academy. During that time, Sarkissian and his peers learned firsthand what made Boulez an icon in the modern music genre.

"He was someone who I would never pretend to know personally. Yet his dispensation for unquestionable correctness, and the ability to understand and make clear the most complex music will fuel my musical spirit for a lifetime," Sarkissian said. "It was an honor to work with him, and it's an honor to be asked to perform again in his memory with my fellow alumni."

Pierre Boulez would have celebrated his 91st birthday just days after the memorial concert on March 26, 2016. By then, Sarkissian will be on a flight home, where he will return to the Interlochen Arts Academy Orchestra podium and continue Boulez's work of advancing classical music in the 21st century.