Watch out! Composers about Writing Himself out of the Picture ; No One in France Can Touch Pierre Boulez for Playing the Power Game. Ro Bert Maycock Studies an Example Not to Be Followed Pierre Boulez Has Played the Power Game So Well He Has Left No Successors. Robe Rt Maycock Warns against Following France's Example Asks the Grand Old Man of F Rench Music to Make One Last Grand Gesture Watch This Face

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Here is a riddle the Christmas crackers didn't ask: name a young French composer. And for supplementary, try thinking when the question might have given a moment's trouble before. Messiaen, Poulenc, Ravel, Debussy, Faure, Saint-Saens, Gounod, Thom as, Halevy, Auber - some firebrand or torch-bearer, according to fashion, would always be striking sparks, back to the time of Beethoven. But now? A follower of the scene might come up with Pascal Dusapin or Tristan Murail, who are not exactly young upst arts.Otherwise, outside France, the history of French classical music comes to a mysterious halt with the name of Pierre Boulez, born 1925.

This is the time of year for Big Ideas, and there is one Big Idea that even the revolutionary Boulez never spelt out. Remember the proposal to blow up the opera houses, the radical deconstruction of orchestras, the mapping-out of the future with the computers of his Paris HQ, Ircam. All off-beam at the time, it soon seemed, as he conducted his way successfully around the old-style institutions and gave them new life (whether he was just premature is another matter).

But the end of the Great Composer . . . now there's a preposterous thought. After all, Boulez himself gives the lie to it, doesn't he? Not so long ago his pieces kept getting stuck at a provisional stage, but the "final" version of . . . explosante-fixe

. . . sounded last summer like a creative release, freer and more engaging than anything he has produced for a long while. In his 70th year, his own standing seems consolidated. It doesn't take long in Paris to find a different side of the story.

You don't see many signs of new life there. Activity, yes. Ircam is bustling with performances, and the Ensemble InterContemporain - another Boulez initiative - is an active presence. But the antiquated underground computer system is not the international draw it once was, and the EiC's programmes seem to be in a time-warp. This month at the Chatelet, alongside an Ircam piece by Klas Torstensson and a commission from Antoine Herve, it played Varese and Frank Zappa and publicised them as if they were part of some rather dangerous rock concert.

Nobody in Britain has matched the achievement of Boulez: the will and the funding to set up institutions like these are inconceivable. But their price has been more subtle and terrible than the money extracted from a nation fond of grand gestures. For t h ey allow no room for alternative visions, and there isn't anything left to spend. Meanwhile the more traditional outlets like orchestras leave the new music to the people who know about it. Promoters say they can't even get John Adams played (Nyman andB ryars are all right because they come with their own groups).

Where's the musical vitality and creative ferment? …