With the passing of Pierre Boulez, the Musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra have lost a great musical collaborator and friend. With his remarkable skill and insight, every concert of ours that he conducted was a meaningful musical experience. And through our many years of work together, he remained a true colleague of the musicians.
As a guest conductor of the CSO, Pierre Boulez always brought challenging and thoughtful programs to Chicago, and on tour. A varied repertoire including his own “Notations,” works of Berlioz, Mahler, Bartok, the Second Viennese School, and some of the most challenging contemporary works of fellow composers, always received the same thorough, thoughtful preparation and execution.
With the departure of Daniel Barenboim as Music Director in 2006, Maestro Boulez offered his services, together with Bernard Haitink, providing artistic leadership of the CSO, on an interim basis. His contribution to the orchestra prior to the appointment of Music Director Riccardo Muti was crucial to the organization’s continued success.
Maestro Muti on Maestro Boulez
"With the loss of Pierre Boulez, the world of music today is infinitely poorer. As both an admirer and friend of the Maestro, I am deeply grateful for his contributions, as composer, conductor and educator, to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, with which he had a collaboration of nearly 50 years, and served so brilliantly as its principal guest conductor and conductor emeritus. His great musical artistry and exceptional intelligence will be missed."
Maestro Boulez and Maestro Muti. This photo hangs in Maestro Muti's office in Chicago.
photo by Todd Rosenberg/CSO
Pierre Boulez in CSO.org
Born March 26, 1925, Montbrison, France
Died January 5, 2016, Baden Baden, Germany
Born in 1925 in Montbrison, France, Pierre Boulez initially trained in mathematics and later pursued studies in piano, composition, and choral conducting at the Paris Conservatory, where his teachers included Olivier Messiaen and René Leibowitz. In 1954, he founded the Concerts du Petit Marigny, one of the first concert series entirely dedicated to the performance of modern music, which later became the Domaine Musical series.
Throughout the next decade, he was intensely involved with musical analysis, and he taught in Darmstadt and at Basel University. In 1963, he was a visiting professor at Harvard University, and in 1976 he became a professor at the Collège de France.
Boulez began his conducting career in 1958 with the Südwestfunk Orchestra in Baden-Baden, Germany. His success there brought him to the Cleveland Orchestra in 1965, where he held posts as principal guest conductor and musical advisor from 1969 until 1972. In 1971, he became chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra; that same year he succeeded Leonard Bernstein as music director of the New York Philharmonic, a position he held until 1977.
In 1974, Boulez became creator and director of the Institut de Recherche et de Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM). This led to the creation of the Ensemble Intercontemporain, one of the world’s finest contemporary music ensembles, which Boulez conducted in France as well as on extended tours abroad. He also co-founded the Cité de la Musique, a music center in Paris created in 1995.
Boulez was one of the leaders of post–World War II musical modernism and his advocacy of modern and postmodern music was decisive for many. His numerous compositions still are widely performed, including Le marteau sans maître, Livre pour cordes, Pli selon pli, three piano sonatas, Le visage nuptial, Répons, . . . explosante-fixe . . ., and Notations. Boulez’s many awards and honors included honorary doctorates from Leeds, Cambridge, Basel, and Oxford universities, among others; Commander of the British Empire; and Knight of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. In 2002, he was awarded the Glenn Gould Prize for his contributions to the Collège de France, and in 2009 he was awarded the Inamori Foundation’s 25th Annual Kyoto Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Arts and Philosophy.
Pierre Boulez made his debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in February 1969, leading two weeks of subscription concerts. The first week included the subscription concert debut of Daniel Barenboim as soloist in Bartók’s First Piano Concerto and the second week included Jacqueline du Pré as soloist in Schumann’s Cello Concerto along with the U.S. premiere of Boulez’s Livre pour cordes. He returned as guest conductor in 1987 and beginning in 1991, he began appearing annually in Chicago. In 1995 he was invited by Daniel Barenboim to become the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s third principal guest conductor, and in 2006 he became the CSO’s Helen Regenstein Conductor Emeritus.
Boulez led the Orchestra on numerous trips to New York’s Carnegie Hall and tours to England (London), Germany (Berlin, Cologne, and Essen), Hungary (Budapest), and Japan (Tokyo). He also curated several MusicNOW concerts, delivered lectures on a variety of contemporary issues at the Art Institute of Chicago, participated in Beyond the Score presentations both in Chicago and in New York, and conducted the Civic Orchestra of Chicago on many occasions both in concert and in reading sessions of new music.
Read the entire article on cso.org
Pierre Boulez in the New York Times
Pierre Boulez conducting the New York Philharmonic in the 1970s.
Credit:New York Philharmonic Archives
Pierre Boulez, the French composer and conductor who was a dominant figure in classical music for over half a century, died on Tuesday at his home in Baden-Baden, Germany. He was 90.
His death was confirmed by his family in a statement to the Philharmonie de Paris. Prime Minister Manuel Valls, also in a statement, said, “Audacity, innovation, creativity — that is what Pierre Boulez was for French music, which he helped shine everywhere in the world.”
Mr. Boulez belonged to an extraordinary generation of European composers who, while still in their 20s, came to the forefront during the decade or so after World War II. They wanted to change music radically, and Mr. Boulez took a leading role. His “Marteau Sans Maître” (“Hammer Without a Master”) was one of this group’s first major achievements, and it remains a central work of modern music.
Mr. Boulez came to give more attention to conducting, where his keen ear and rhythmic incisiveness would often produce a startling clarity. (There are countless stories of him detecting, for example, faulty intonation from the third oboe in a complex orchestral texture.)
He reached his peak as a conductor in the 1960s, when he began to appear with some of the world’s great orchestras, including the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Berlin Philharmonic and the Cleveland Orchestra. His style was unique. He never used the baton, but manipulated the orchestra by means of his two hands simultaneously, the left indicating phrasing or, in much contemporary music, counter-rhythm.
His characteristic sound — unemotional on the surface but with undercurrents of intemperateness, at once brilliant in color and rhythmically disciplined — depended on his famously acute ear and suited his core repertoire: Stravinsky (several of whose works he introduced to Europe), Debussy, Webern, Bartok and Messiaen. It was refreshing as well in his many excursions into earlier music.
As a young composer, he matched intelligence with great force of mind: He knew what had to be done, according to his reading of history, and he did it, in defiance of all the norms of French musical culture at the time. To be a conductor, though, meant working with the existing machinery.
He tried to remake that machinery in 1971, when he became music director simultaneously of the New York Philharmonic and the BBC Symphony Orchestra in London. He tried to explore unconventional repertoire, unconventional concert formats and unconventional locations. But he also accepted that he had to rethink some of his own preconceptions, and as his musical outlook broadened, his output as a composer dwindled.
It was his reputation as an avant-garde composer and as a crusader for new music that prompted his unexpected appointment as music director of the New York Philharmonic, succeeding Leonard Bernstein. After the initial shock at his arrival, there was hope that he might, as many said at the time, bring the orchestra into the 20th century and appeal to younger audiences. But his programming often met with hostility in New York, and he left quietly six years later.
His destination was Paris. Dismissive of the French musical establishment, he had spent most of the previous two decades abroad, but President Georges Pompidou, keen to reclaim a native son, had agreed to found a contemporary-music center for him in the capital: the Institute for the Research and Coordination of Acoustics and Music, known as Ircam. It had its own 31-piece orchestra, the Ensemble Intercontemporain.
In the 1980s, Mr. Boulez gained further government support for his grandest project, the City of Music complex in the Villette district of Paris, housing the Paris Conservatoire, a concert hall and an instrument museum.
Pierre Boulez (the Z in the name is not silent) was born on March 26, 1925, in Montbrison, a town near Lyon, the son of an industrialist, Léon Boulez, and the former Marcelle Calabre. He studied the piano and began to compose in his teens.
A defining moment came when he heard a broadcast of Stravinsky’s “Song of the Nightingale” conducted by Ernest Ansermet; it was a work to which he often returned throughout his conducting career. Against the wishes of his father, who wanted him to study engineering, he went to Paris in 1942 and enrolled at the Conservatoire.
In 1944-45, he took a harmony class taught by Olivier Messiaen, whose impact on him was decisive. Messiaen’s teaching went far beyond traditional harmony to embrace new music that was outlawed both by the stagnant Conservatoire of that period and by the German occupying forces: the music of Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Bartok and Webern. Messiaen also introduced his students to medieval music and the music of Asia and Africa. Mr. Boulez felt his course was set; but he also knew he needed to go further into the 12-tone method that Schoenberg had introduced a generation before.
“I had to learn about that music, to find out how it was made,” he once told Opera News. “It was a revelation — a music for our time, a language with unlimited possibilities. No other language was possible. It was the most radical revolution since Monteverdi. Suddenly, all our familiar notions were abolished. Music moved out of the world of Newton and into the world of Einstein.”
To start on this route, he took lessons in 1945-46 with René Leibowitz, a Schoenbergian who had settled in Paris. Soon, in works like his mighty Second Piano Sonata (1947-48), he was integrating what had been separate paths of development in the music of the previous 40 years: Schoenberg’s serialism with Stravinsky’s rhythmic innovations and Messiaen’s enlarged notion of mode. As he saw it, all these composers had failed to pursue their most radical impulses, and it fell to a new generation — specifically, to him — to pick up the torch.
Though he was outspoken about his historical role, he was much warier of talking about what his music expressed. There was the odd reference in his early writings to the poet and playwright Antonin Artaud; there was also an admitted kinship with the poetry of René Char, which he set to music in “Le Marteau Sans Maître” and other works. But he was also capable of ferocious abstraction, as in the first section of his “Structures” (1951) for two pianos, a test case in applying serial principles to rhythm, volume and color.
Read the entire article on nytimes.com