Pierre BoulezConductor, Composer
As composer and conductor, Pierre Boulez was one of the formative musicians of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries and was also one of the most influential figures in French and European cultural politics after the Second World War. His relentless and uncompromising dedication to contemporary music found its lasting expression in the Institute de Recherche et de Coordination Acoustique-Musique (IRCAM) and the ensemble Intercontemporain which was also founded and for a time also directed by him. In his own compositions, he further developed aspects of Schoenberg’s twelve-tone music and Stravinsky’s experiments in polytonality and rhythm to serialism, which was also characterised by the use of electronic techniques. Boulez’ compositional oeuvre, although not very extensive, is characterised by constructive density and an often underestimated tonal sensibility. Boulez worked for decades on compositions such as the famous Notations.
As a conductor, the focus of his work was not only contemporary music and classical Modernism, but also Gustav Mahler’s symphonies and the operas of Richard Wagner. After his debut at the Bayreuth Festival with Parsifale (the work he was to conduct there again in 2004), he took over the musical direction of the Ring des Nibelungen in 1976. Although the production staged by Patrice Chereau first aroused furious protests, it soon achieved legendary status as a so-called “Ring of the century”. Between 1961 and 2010, Pierre Boulez collaborated with the Berliner Philharmoniker for almost half a century. In addition to his own compositions and works of the Second Viennese School, he mainly conducted the music of Bartók, Stravinsky, Debussy and Ravel. Boulez had a famously uncompromising ear. With a deep-rooted aversion to any sentimentality, his interpretations were also marked by rapid tempos and a penetrating analysis of musical structures.