Pierre Boulez, Classical Composer And Conductor, 90, Passes
January 8, 2016 at 11:53 AM (PT)
PIERRE BOULEZ, a dominant composer and conductor in contemporary music, who pushed the music establishment to embrace new sounds, structures and textures, died at the age of 90 at his home in BADEN-BADEN, GERMANY.
BOULEZ was a firebrand, booing IGOR STRAVINSKY in PARIS for being too conservative as a student, calling his onetime friend JOHN CAGE a “performing monkey,” accusing those who didn’t use the 12-tone composing system “of no use” and calling for the burning down of opera houses.
He went on to conduct works by STRAVINSKY and other popular composers dating to the BAROQUE period. BOULEZ expressed admiration for select orchestras, including the LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC, which he regularly led as a guest conductor in a variety of works, including his own. On the other hand, he called minimalists such as PHILIP GLASS and STEVE REICH “too simple to be interesting,” and he said the JOHN ADAMS opera “The Death of Klinghoffer” sounded “like bad film music.”
“History should be absorbed and rejected,” BOULEZ once said. “If you are drowned in a library, you never have your own personality.”
BOULEZ returned to LOS ANGELES in 2011 to conduct his “Sur Incises” at a DISNEY HALL memorial concert to honor his longtime friend, former L.A. PHILHARMONIC administrative head ERNET FLEISCHMANN.
BOULEZ was born MARCH 26th, 1925, in the small town of MONTBRISON in the LOIRE region of FRANCE. He sang in the choir of the CATHOLIC school and took piano lessons but also was expert in math. BOULEZ went on to study at the UNIVERSITY OF LYON to become an engineer, which is where he first heard a live orchestra concert and saw his first opera.
Moving to PARIS In 1942, he enrolled in the hallowed PARIS CONSERVATORY, devising theories and regimens that threw over romanticism in music, protesting modern pieces deemed too conservative.
“Certainly I was a bully,” he told a LONDON reporter in 2008. “I’m not ashamed of it at all. The hostility of the establishment to what you were able to do in the ’40s and ’50s was very strong. Sometimes you have to fight against society.”
BOULEZ adopted ARNOLD SCHOENBERG's atonal, 12-tone serial system in composing, devising with other composers systems to also regulate rhythms, accents, the duration of notes and nearly every other musical element. Those experiments helped lead to his breakthrough work, the 1955 “Le Marteau Sans Maitre (The Hammer Without a Master)" -- a nine-movement setting of three poems by FRENCH surrealist RENE CHAR so dense that it put even veteran musicians to the test.
BOULEZ moved to BADEN-BADEN in 1959, lured by the progressive SOUTHWEST GERMAN RADIO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA that played his music and offered him increasing chances to conduct. His music brought him back to PARIS in 1970 to create an institute devoted to electronic and computer-derived music, the INSTITUTE FOR RESEARCH AND COORDINATION IN ACOUSTICS (IRCAM), which he headed until 1992.
It was as a conductor, that BOULEZ found wide acceptance, using precise hand movements in lieu of a baton to shape works, both traditional and progressive. In 1965, he was invited to guest-conduct the CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA, beginning a long association with that group, then guest-conducted the L.A. PHILHARMONIC in 1969. In 1971, he was named music director of the NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC, succeeding the beloved LEONARD BERNSTEIN, though his chilly style was so different, leading to his exit after six years.
The U.S. orchestras with which he did find favor, in L.A., CHICAGO and CLEVELAND, invited him back regularly, and he made numerous appearances at the annual OJAI MUSIC FESTIVAL. Between 1967 and 2005, he won 26 GRAMMY AWARDS for his recordings.
BOULEZ collaborated with architect FRANK GEHRY on projects that included a new concert hall in GERMANY that will be named after him when it opens this year.
He managed to closely guard his private life, amid much speculation about affairs and relationships, even spawning a 1976 biography dubbed, "BOULEZ: Composer, Conductor, Enigma.”
“He is a wonderful musician, a wonderful intelligence,” composer and conductor LUKAS FOSS once said of BOULEZ. “It’s a pity there is no humanity there.”
BOULEZ never gave up trying to turn people on to new music. “You always have to make an effort,” he said. “If you are timid and unadventurous, no matter how good your ideas, nothing happens. Me, I’m not a shy man.”