Pierre Boulez, conductor and composer, has died

Martin Cullingford Wed 6th January 2016

One of the most significant and influential musical figures of the past half century

Pierre Boulez on the cover of Gramophone through the years

Pierre Boulez on the cover of Gramophone through the years

Pierre Boulez, one of the most significant and influential musical figures of the past half century, has died, aged 90.

As composer, his work embraced electronic music and chance, much of which helped cement his reputation as an uncompromising exponent of contemporary music. His commitment to the music of our time was embodied in the foundation, in the 1970s, of both IRCAM (Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique) in Paris, an influential institution dedicated to pushing the boundaries and developing our understanding of contemporary music, and the Ensemble InterContemporain, an ensemble devoted to exploring contemporary chamber music. 

As conductor, Boulez served as head of some of the world's most prestigious organisations - including the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic - though worked widely with many others. Twentieth-century repertoire was an understandable speciality - Mahler, Stravinsky, Varèse among many others - though his interpretations of earlier repertoire, from Beethoven to Wagner, also earned great acclaim and provoked thought. As conductor he received ten Gramophone Awards, plus four as composer. In 1995 we named him Artist of the Year. 

For all his visionary innovation and uncompromising advocacy - perhaps in part because of it - he was also a controversial figure. But for many he will simply have been the person who opened their eyes and ears to classical music, whether as the super-star maestro on the podium, or the teacher who removed chairs from New York's Philharmonic hall and filled the area with cushions in the so called 'Rug Concerts' of the 1970s. As Philip Clark put it in a Gramophone interview with Boulez in 2010: 'He has done more than anybody else to educate and inform us about the music of our time'. 

You can explore more about Boulez's life and work in the following features and interviews:

 

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