Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Pierre Boulez (1925-2016)

Pierre Boulez, a leader of the post-World War II compositional avant-garde who (in)famously declared, “Schoenberg is dead,” only to become a leading advocate of Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Bartók, Debussy, Messiaen and other modern composers in a long, stellar career as a conductor, has died at 90.

While some of his compositions, such as “Répons,” “Marteau Sans Maître,” “Pli Selon Pli” and his Second and Third piano sonatas, are rated as masterpieces of postwar art-music, Boulez was far more widely known as a conductor and organizer of musical enterprises.

He prevailed upon the French government to found the Institute for Research and Coordination of Acoustics and Music (IRCAM) and its resident Ensemble Intercontemporain, and subsequently to build the City of Music complex that houses the Paris Conservatoire.

Although Boulez had led orchestras and other ensembles since the 1940s, he came into his own as a conductor in the ’70s. He served as music advisor to the Cleveland Orchestra (1970-72) following the death of George Szell, and succeeded Leonard Bernstein as music director of the New York Philharmonic in 1971. During an often stormy six-year tenure in New York, he founded the “Rug Concerts,” a prototype of the informal concert series now staged by many classical-music ensembles.

He also was chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra (1971-75), served for many years as principal guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and performed with other major orchestras.

In 1976, the centenary of Richard Wagner’s death, Boulez conducted the “Ring” cycle at Bayreuth, in a provocative production by Patrice Chéreau that was telecast and circulated on audio and video recordings. Boulez and Chéreau also collaborated in the first staging of the completed version of Alban Berg’s “Lulu” in 1979.

Boulez recorded many of the canonical works of 20th-century music with the New York Philharmonic, BBC Symphony and Cleveland Orchestra for Columbia (now Sony Classical) in the 1970s, and later with the Chicago Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic and other ensembles for Deutsche Grammophon. His audio and video discography also includes some music of 18th- and 19th-century composers, notably Handel, Mozart, Beethoven and Bruckner.

An obituary by Paul Griffiths for The New York Times:

An obituary by Tim Page for The Washington Post:

An obituary by Mark Brown in The Guardian: