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Boulez, Pierre

conducted music conductor guest

Boulez, Pierre , greatly significant French composer and conductor; b. Montbrison, March 26, 1925. He received training in piano, and pursued his secondary studies in Montbrison and St.-Etienne. After studying advanced mathematics in Lyons (1941), he went to Paris in 1942. In 1944 he entered the harmony class of Messiaen at the Cons. In 1946 he became music director of the Renaud-Barrault theater company. Boulez conducted concerts at the Petit-Marigny, which became the “Domaine Musical” concerts in 1955. He led these influential concerts of contemporary music until 1967. From 1955 to 1960 he gave summer courses in musical analysis in Darmstadt. In 1959 he began a close association with the Südwestfunk in Baden-Baden, where he programmed much contemporary music. From 1960 to 1962 he gave courses in musical analysis and composition in Basel, and then was a visiting prof, at Harvard Univ. in 1962–63. In 1965 he appeared as a guest conductor at the Monday Evening Concerts in Los Angeles. That same year, he gave a conducting course in Basel. In 1966 Boulez made his debut at the Bayreuth Festival conducting Parsifal, and then took the company to Japan for performances of Tristan una Isolde . From 1967 he appeared as a guest conductor with the Cleveland Orch., serving as its principal guest conductor from 1969 to 1971. He conducted Pelléas et Mélisande at London’s Covent Garden in 1969. From 1971 to 1975 Boulez served as chief conductor of the BBC Sym. Orch. in London, and from 1971 to 1977 as music director of the N.Y. Phil. His tenure in N.Y. proved controversial in some quarters for his uncompromising advocacy of 20 th century music. He led the orch. on tours of Japan in 1974 and of Europe in 1975. In 1971 Boulez was asked by the French President Pompidou to organize the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique /Musique (IR-C AM) in Paris, which under his guidance became one of the world’s leading centers for experimental music. In 1976 he founded and became president of the Ensemble Inter/Contemporain (EIC) in Paris, with which he subsequently conducted numerous performances of contemporary music. That same year, he conducted the centenary Ring cycle at the Bayreuth Festival, which he conducted again each summer from 1977 to 1980. Boulez was named a prof, at the Collège de France by decree of the French President in 1976. On Feb. 24, 1979, he conducted the first performance of the complete version of Berg’s Lulu at the Paris Opéra. He made a major tour of the U.S. with the Ensemble Inter-Contemporain in 1986, which he subsequently took to Australia and New Zealand in 1988, Russia in 1990, and Canada in 1991. In 1992 he appeared as both a conductor and composer at the Salzburg Festival. On Dec. 7, 1992, he conducted Debussy’s La Mer as part of the 150 th anniversary concert of the N.Y. Phil., which was televised live to the nation by PBS. He conducted the Ensemble Inter/Contemporain on another tour of the U.S. in 1993, at the Salzburg Festival and in Berlin in 1994, and in South America in 1996. Boulez was appointed principal guest conductor of the Chicago Sym. Orch. in 1995. He also held the Carnegie Hall Composer’s Chair from 1999 to 2003.

As a composer, Boulez’s influence on the course of art music in the second half of the 20 th century has been especially significant via his espousal of avant-garde techniques. His works, challenging to his auditors as well as his performers, are often difficult to describe, even in the familiar terms of dissonant counterpoint, free serialism, or indeterminism. As a conductor, he has demonstrated an acute analytical approach to not only contemporary scores but also to standard works of the past. His undemonstrative podium manner lends itself well to the clarity and lucidity he brings to his interpretations.

Among Boulez’s many honors are the Praemium Imperiale Prize of Japan (1989), Grammy Awards (3 in 1994, 2 in 1995, and 2 in 1996), the Edison and Gramophone awards (1995), and the Berlin Kunstpreis and Polar Prize of Sweden (1996).


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