Pierre Boulez has been a pivotal figure of modern European art music for half a century. His profound musicality, clear intelligence and unusual farsightedness have enabled him to act in a wider field than the great majority. Thus he has occupied the forefront as composer, interpreter/conductor and eminent theorist, and he has made unique contributions as a debater and source of ideas.
Following his student years, in which he received fundamental impulses from e.g. Olivier Messiaen and René Leibowitz, Boulez came into contact with the Darmstadt School in the early fifties and soon became recognised as one of the leading composers of the younger generation. His real international breakthrough came with the performance of his great chamber music work Le Marteau sans maître at the 1955 ISCM Festival in Baden-Baden, and since then works like the great Mallarmé portrait Pli selon pli (1962) and Dérives for chamber ensemble (1984) have caused him to be regarded as one of the great pioneers of latter-day twentieth century modernism. This position has been confirmed by his sophisticated use of computers in both the origination and realisation of many of his new compositions.
In 1959 Pierre Boulez was appointed Conductor of the Südwestfunk Orchestra which, through the medium of EBU interchange, became the hub from which contemporary music could be conveyed to a wider audience. This marked the beginning of a remarkable conducting career, brilliantly highlighted by the epoch-making Wagner productions in Bayreuth and the principal conductorships of the New York Philharmonic and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
At the same time he has been instrumental in devising new ways of presenting the music of our time and devising institutional structures for the development of its materials and interpretation, ranging from the seminal Domaine Musicale concerts in Paris from 1954 onwards and the IRCAM artistic research undertaken, created and directed by himself, to his inspiration of the greatest French musical undertakings of our time in Paris, such as the Place de la Bastille Opera and, most recently of all, Cité de la Musique, for which he designed the world’s first large concert hall to be tailored specifically to the demands of new music.