Pierre Boulez

conductor
Born March 26, 1925 in Montbrison, France.


Born in 1925, Pierre Boulez can look back on nearly six decades of activity in making music an essential part of the contemporary world. His first compositions date back to the mid-1940s, when he had recently emerged from studies with Olivier Messiaen in Paris, who encouraged his technical acumen, his intensity and also his curiosity, about Asian and African as well as European music. At the same time, lessons with René Leibowitz, a Schoenberg and Webern scholar, introduced him to twelve-note composition, which he immediately adapted to his own purposes.

His "Second Piano Sonata" (1947-48), a work of Beethovenian range and power, marked his creative coming of age. The next step was a reduction, an exhaustive examination of the basic elements of music in an attempt to make rhythmic values, loudness and nuances of touch obey serial principles: this happened in the first section of his "Structures I" for two pianos (1951-52). With the knowledge gained, he could return to larger issues in the later part of this work and in "Le Marteau sans maître" for contralto and mixed sextet (1953-55), whose combination of delectableness and stringency has made it a classic of modern music.

A further opening-out produced the brilliant "Pli selon Pli" (1957-62), a portrait of the poet Mallarmé in music for soprano and an orchestra rich in percussion. After this his compositional output decreased, partly because he had since 1957 been appearing more and more frequently as a conductor. At first he specialised in twentieth-century music, especially in his work with the Domaine Musical organisation he had founded in Paris, but by the end of the 1960s he had conducted Wagner in Bayreuth, Beethoven in London and Machaut in Los Angeles.

Then in 1971 he was appointed musical director of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, posts he held until 1975 and 1977 respectively. A few important works were achieved during this period, and seemed to thrive on his contact with the orchestra and with the art of conducting: notably his "Eclat/Multiples" (begun in 1965, one of his unfinished projects) and "Rituel" (1974-75).

In the mid-1970s, however, he decided to reduce his conducting commitments drastically in order to concentrate on work at IRCAM, the Institute for Research and Coordination Acoustic/Music he founded at the request of President Georges Pompidou. There his contacts with computer technicians and musicians were brought to bear on the composition of Répons, followed by another electronic project, ..."explosante-fixe"... for Midi-flute, two solo-flutes, ensemble and electronics.

At the end of 1991, Pierre Boulez left his position of director of IRCAM, maintaining his ties with this institute, however, by accepting the title of Honorary Director. Again conducting on a regular basis, he has created a close relationship with outstanding American and European orchestras. Amongst many others, he conducted the inauguration concert of the Cité de la musique at La Villette, a four orchestra Boulez-Festival in Tokyo, prestigious worldwide tours with the London Symphony Orchestra celebrating his 70th, 75th and 80th birthday and new productions of Schoenberg's Moses and Aron with Peter Stein, Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle with Pina Bausch, a De Falla-Stravinsky-Schönberg production staged by Klaus Michael Grüber and returned to Bayreuth in 2004 and 2005 to conduct "Parsifal" in a staging by Christoph Schlingensief.

After his much celebrated 80th birthday year, he took a sabbatical leave devoted to composition and resumed his conducting activities in summer 2006 with the Orchestre de Paris and Jessye Norman, followed by the Festivals of Aix, Salzburg and Lucerne. 2007 saw his renewed and highly acclaimed collaboration with Patrice Chéreau for the staging of Janaceks' opera "From the House of the Dead" in Vienna, Amsterdam and Aix-en-Provence. After signing in 1992 an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon, Pierre Boulez devoted a considerable amount of his time to record important works of the 20th century. His recordings earned more than 25 Grammys, not to speak of the European Gramophone-, Echo- or Deutscher Schallplatten-Awards.

At the same time he continued his work as composer, writing "Incises", "sur Incises", "Anthèmes 2", "Notations VII","Dérive 2", assumed the tenure of the Composer's Chair at Carnegie Hall and is conductor emeritus of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Acclaimed world-wide, numerous prices (Siemens Foundation/Germany, Leonie Sonning/Denmark, Praemium Imperiale/Japan, Polar Music Prize/Sweden, Wolf Prize/Israel, Grawemeyer Award/USA...) and honorary doctorates were conferred upon him.

© Auditorium du Louvre, 2008.

Upper right picture : © Harald Hoffmann / DG.