Pierre Boulez

Pierre Boulez

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.

Boulez’s extraordinarily vast discography includes Wagner’s Parsifal and complete Ring cycle from Bayreuth; the complete symphonies of Mahler; the world premiere recording of Berg’s Lulu; and the major orchestral works of Bartók, Debussy, Ligeti, Schoenberg, Scriabin, Stravinsky, Varèse, and Webern, among numerous others. In 1989, he signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon to record a broad range of twentieth-century masterworks with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, and the Berlin Philharmonic, as well as contemporary repertoire, including his own works, with the Ensemble Intercontemporain.

Since 1967, Pierre Boulez won twenty-six Grammy Awards from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences as a conductor (including several in the Best Classical Album, Best Orchestral Performance, Best Choral Performance, and Best Opera Recording categories) and as a composer (for Best Classical Contemporary Composition). He is the third all-time Grammy winner, behind Sir Georg Solti (thirty-one) and Alison Krauss and Quincy Jones (twenty-seven each). Eight of his Grammy Awards were for recordings with the Chicago Symphony and Chorus in the fields of Best Classical Album, Best Orchestral Performance, Best Choral Performance, and Best Opera Recording: Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle, The Wooden Prince, Cantata profana, and Concerto for Orchestra; Mahler’s Symphony no. 9; and Varèse’s Amériques, Arcana, Déserts, and Ionisation. Boulez received the Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015.

Boulez’s other recordings with the CSO include Bartók’s Piano Concerto no. 1 with Kristian Zimerman, Rhapsodies nos. 1 and 2 and Violin Concerto no. 2 with Gil Shaham, The Miraculous Mandarin, and Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta; Mahler’s Symphony no. 1 and Totenfeier; Schoenberg’s Pelleas and Melisande and Variations for Orchestra; Scriabin’s Piano Concerto in F-sharp minor and Prometheus (both with Anatol Ugorski) and the Poem of Ecstasy; Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra;

Stravinsky’s The Firebird; Augusta Read Thomas’s . . . words of the sea . . .; and, most recently, the CSO Resound all-Stravinsky album including Pulcinella (with Roxana Constantinescu, Nicholas Phan, and Kyle Ketelson), Four Études, and the Symphony in Three Movements, released in January 2010.The 2005 CSO From the Archives release was A Tribute to Pierre Boulez.

6 January 2016



Please note: Biographies on the CSO website are based on the information that was most recently provided to the CSO by the artists or their representatives. More current information may be available on the artists' own websites or those of their representatives.

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