The Ensemble intercontemporain was founded in France in 1976 by composer and director Pierre Boulez, Polar Music Prize Laureate of ’96.
Boulez created the ensemble with the support of Michel Guy, French Minister of Culture at the time, and in collaboration with Nicholas Snowman, then the Artistic Director of l’IRCAM.
The ensemble is dedicated to contemporary music, music from the 20th and 21st century. Boulez founded the EIC for this strict purpose, as he wished to give more space to contemporary music that he thought was left aside by the greater music institutions.
The aim was to create an endurable and lasting ensemble, with resources that would enable musicians to work full time with contemporary music in order to make it live and strive. At the time, the ensembles specialising in modern music had very little resources and backing. Thanks to the involvement of Michel Guy, the project got backing from the Ministry of Culture, and still has today. It also receives additional support from the Paris City Council.
Pierre Boulez (1925–2016) (Source: Ensemble intercontemporain)
Michel Guy (1927–1990) (Source: Fernand Michaud, Bibliothèque Nationale de France)
The Ensemble intercontemporain is the first permanent organization of its type in the world. It is composed of 31 soloists. They are employed on permanent contract, enabling them to fulfill the major aims of the Ensemble: performance, creation and education for young musicians and the general public.
The ensemble has a double mission: to preserve cultural heritage by presenting existing repertoire from the 20th and 21st century, but also to encourage creation of new work by contemporary composers.
The Ensemble in 1979 (Source: Ensemble intercontemporain archives, all rights reserved)
Composers of the 20th and 21st Centuries
"L’Ensemble intercontemporain has a tremendous capacity, a virtuosity, a brilliance, a pace – and a very French aspect too: awareness of detail and lightness of touch."
Matthias Pintscher, Music Director, in a portrait by Jérémie Schellaert, 2013.
Pierre Boulez was Head of the orchestra but never its Musical Director. He participated in the selection of the first musicians though, and in their formation.
Since the beginning, the Ensemble intercontemporain has had six eminent musical directors:
1976 - 1978 : Michel Tabachnik
1979 - 1991 : Peter Eötvös
1992 - 1999 : David Robertson
2000 - 2003 : Jonathan Nott
2006 - 2012 : Susanna Mälkki
2013 – : Matthias Pintscher
First musical director Michel Tabachnik and Pierre Boulez (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
"History is always cut off from today. As if there were a kind of dividing wall between the two. No, there’s no dividing wall, there’s always a continuity. This continuity sometimes straddles the centuries."
– Pierre Boulez, from the Lucerne Festival Academy Documentary, 2009
Contemporary music designates different musical movements from 1945 and onwards. It’s both a rupture with the tonal system used since the 17th century, and has evolved with the possibilities of the invention of electricity and other new technologies such as electronic instruments. It is lead by experimentation and originality.
Thanks to technical developments in the electro acoustic fields during the 20th century, the sound materia and its constituents became as important as the instrument and composition. The changing and alteration of the sound also created new standards in how to compose.
Karlheinz Stockhausen, a pioneer within electroacoustic music and Polar Music Prize Laureate in 2000.
Different movements can be recognised within contemporary music of the 20th century. Examples:
Musique mixte – mixing electroacoustic and acoustic
Musique électroacoustique – Studio composed music with machines, working on synthetic sounds through loud speakers.
Musique spectrale – Music that explores the electroacoustic specificities of the sound
Serialisme – Method of composition using series of pitches, rhythms, dynamics, timbres or other musical elements.
Minimalisme – Music or other compositional practice that employs limited or minimal musical materials.
(Source: Césaré, Centre national de création musicale)
Placed in the heart of La Cité de La Musique in Paris, the closeness to different musical institutions helps keeping up the mission of forming future musicians, directors and composers. La Cité de la musique is an area in the North of Paris where several musical institutions are gathered.
The collective collaborates with composers, exploring instrumental techniques and developing projects that interweave music, dance, theatre, film, video and visual arts.
(Source: Ensemble intercontemporain, photo Luc Hossepied, all rights reserved)
Collaboration between Ensemble intercontemporain and choreographer Saburo Teshigawara.
In collaboration with IRCAM (Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique), the Ensemble intercontemporain is also active in the field of synthetic sound generation. New pieces are commissioned and performed on a regular basis.
L'IRCAM (Institut de recherche et coordination acoustique/musique) is an internationally recognized research center dedicated to creating new technologies for music. It was founded in in 1977 by Pierre Boulez.
"From Within..." by Marko Nikodijevic and Robert Henke. A commission from Ensemble intercontemporain and l'IRCAM.
The creation of monodrama « Intérieur » at the Théâtre du Châtelet in 2021.
Since the beginning, one of the major activities and aims of the Ensemble intercontemporain is education and formation. Not only the formation of professional instrumentalists, musical directors and composers, but also of a larger audience to contemporary music.
Concerts for children, creative workshops for students, training programs for future performers, conductors, composers, are all part of the Ensemble's activities. A close collaboration with students, academies, etc and a program for younger children to discover music, instruments, and what an orchestra is.
A collaboration with the Juilliard School of Music
L’Ensemble intercontemporain is composed of 31 soloists.
Matthias Pintscher explains: ”In that sense, we are not really a chamber orchestra, but it’s an ensemble which makes us, in size, the biggest ensemble for contemporary music in the world. It allows us to create a repertoire that is truly unique and really ours – basically tailored to the size and the needs of the ensemble.”
“These amazing musicians have such an open mindset and I find that really unique. They have this incredibly high responsibility for not only new work, for every work that we perform. It’s a pleasure to jump into this bubbling pool of creativity every time we get together and explore the works that we are performing:”
The ensemble today does not only consist of its musicians and musical director, but of a whole team of 14 artists and different functions to run and manage all the Ensembles activities on and off stage.
Biography published in 2022.
© Header photo by Quentin Chevrier.
Archive photos published with the kind permission of the Ensemble intercontemporain, all rights reserved.