In Memoriam Pierre Boulez

Monday 11 January 2016, a few words by Hervé Boissière,'s founder and managing director...

"A great man passed away on Tuesday, 5 January. Being an incomparable scholar, a trained mathematician, a thinker and a musical theorist, as well as a great teacher, a visionary composer and a revolutionary conductor, Pierre Boulez was faithful to the Platonic tradition whereby the poet serves the city and contributes to political life. Both France in general, and Paris in particular, owe some of their most prestigious musical institutions to him, including the Ensemble intercontemporain, the IRCAM (Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique), the Opéra Bastille and the Cité de la musique, which is complemented by the famous Philharmonie de Paris that was finally inaugurated just one year ago. Naturally, one of the first exhibitions planned by the latter institution was dedicated to both Mr Boulez's career path and his substantial contribution to the world of culture.

"Given that he was the man behind a multitude of familiar recordings, Mr Boulez was one of the most sought-after conductors in the world. He acted as an ambassador for early 20th century French music, and he helped to raise awareness of Debussy's and Ravel's work abroad – particularly in the United States, where he was Music Director of the New York Philharmonic in the 1970s. His collaboration with the Bayreuth Festival turned him into a real Wagnerian hero – notably due to his famous 100th anniversary production of Wagner's Ring which was directed by Patrice Chéreau. Pierre Boulez enjoyed a second success with Chéreau for the Leoš Janáček opera From the House of the Dead, held at the Aix-en-Provence Festival. Mr Boulez's operatic successes were not only due to his perfect mastery of the musical score, but also his deep understanding of the libretto. Passionate about theatre (and having begun his career with Jean-Louis Barrault), he was able to analyse the psychology of the characters with great finesse, something which was reflected in his performance. Wozzeck and the memorable Lulu with Teresa Stratas at the Opéra de Paris also come to mind.

"Pierre Boulez was both an artist and a thinker, which – he felt – was also a pleonasm. He liked to quote Baudelaire: "I feel sorry for poets guided by their instincts alone; I regard them as incomplete... for a poet not to have a critic within him is impossible." Composing is "a very specific way of thinking. Only, we're not thinking with words, colours and features; we're thinking with sounds instead."1 And Mr Boulez believed that this thought system was logically steeped in his scientific training. One only need read Boulez on music today and see how many references there are to mathematics to be convinced! Algebraic terms are used extensively. Indeed, the world of music is described as "relative", "created by expanding the series concept", "with a view to organising a FINITE2 set of creative possibilities" which "is derived from an initial series by a FUNCTIONAL generative."

"But Mr Boulez was a far cry from the image of the cold and austere man we sometimes tried to paint him as. The day after Pierre Boulez's death, Daniel Barenboim summed him up in a very succinct way: "He felt with his head and thought with his heart." In 2002, when I was the director of the naive classic label, and when I myself had the privilege of meeting him during a recording session with David Robertson and the Orchestre National de Lyon (Rituel in memoriam Bruno Maderna, Notations I, VII, IV, III, II, Figures – Doubles – Prismes), or in 2008 during a live broadcast of a Stravinsky programme under the Louvre Pyramid, I was always struck by his extremely high level of receptiveness, his kindness and his interest in our "technical things". And he always had a natural and obvious air of charisma about him and a twinkle in his eye, ready to make a brilliant comment at any moment.

"Tributes have continued to pour in for almost a week now. Even during his lifetime, on his last few birthdays, Pierre Boulez had been the subject of celebrations and tributes the world over. This iconic figure of the cultural landscape is now no more. But his interpretive vision has shaped a whole generation of artists, some of whom were trained by the great man himself in numerous master classes and academies – particularly in Lucerne. The institutions he established are thriving and have acquired an international reputation. One thing is absolutely certain: his work will always live on... Thank you, Pierre."

Hervé Boissière, Founder and Managing Director
and all the team at

1 Interviews with Gérard Akoka.
2 Emphasis by Boulez.