Obituary: composer and conductor Pierre Boulez, 90

Posted on: January 6, 2016

“World-renowned conductor-composer Pierre Boulez, considered one of the most influential voices in contemporary classical music, has died,” reads an unsigned Agence France-Presse report on Tuesday (1/5). “As well as being an expert interpreter of the works of Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Scriabin, the Frenchman found himself, with Karlheinz Stockhausen, a seminal figure in the mid-20th century experimental avant-garde…. He would push back the frontiers of music still further with computer-generated music at his Paris studio,” IRCAM (the Institute for Research and Coordination Acoustic/Music), founded in 1977. “Born in 1925 in the small provincial town of Montbrison, in central France, Boulez studied under Olivier Messiaen at the Paris Conservatoire during the war years…. He led the BBC Symphony Orchestra and from 1971-77 was music director of the New York Philharmonic, where he favored contemporary works.” He served as musical adviser to the Cleveland Orchestra from 1970 to 1972. “His exasperation with the relative conservatism of the French musical world … prompted Boulez to make his home in the southwestern German city of Baden-Baden in the early 1960s, where he eventually died. Boulez’s compositions were noted for their difficulty, with one of his defining works, ‘Le Marteau Sans Maitre’ (‘The Hammer Without a Master’), drawing inspiration from surrealist poetry and lacking any bass line.” Boulez served as music director at California’s Ojai Music Festival several times, and was named conductor emeritus of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra following his tenure there as principal guest conductor.

Posted January 6, 2016

Pictured: Pierre Boulez, November 2008. AFP Photo / Francois Guillot