Rendezvous: Répons by Pierre Boulez, June 11

For certain, he is the eminence grise behind over 50 years of French contemporary music, perhaps of the entire French music scene. For others, more vindictive, he is the guru of a sect. Others speak of his as a unique mentor.

Pierre Boulez © Jean Radel

Pierre Boulez © Jean Radel

Whatever the case may be everyone agrees that Pierre Boulez has left an indelible mark on the music world that cannot leave anyone indifferent. This mark exceeds his catalogue, the rest being fairly limited. Like the great masters of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, Boulez’ work also touches interpretation (abroad his is better known as a conductor than as a composer and he has won over 26 Grammy Awards for his recordings of Mahler, Debussy, Stravinsky, or the second School of Vienna), teaching (How many composers have sought out his instruction? How many musicians have been able to take advantage, in one way or another, of his vast educational initiatives?), and the institution (Boulez has given France unique tools from IRCAM and the Ensemble intercontemporain to the Philharmonie de Paris that finally meets the requirements so dear to Boulez; a concert hall that is not reduced to the status of a restaurant open from 8 to 10pm, a hall for life, a “Centre Pompidou for music”).

The compositional oeuvre of Pierre Boulez is far from negligible. It contains less than 50 works, as the artist writes slowly, meticulously. While Boulez’ music sometimes gives the impression of outrageous improvisation, in reality each note has its place, rigorously thought out and placed: a note is never there by accident, it is never excessive. The composer Boulez enjoys making improvements to a work, unflaggingly: with him, a score is always, already unachieved. At the forefront of the post WWII avant-garde, almost every one of his works represents a milestone in the history of music from Marteau sans maître based on the text by René Char to Sur Incises, not forgetting Pli selon Pli (Portrait de Mallarmé), …explosante-fixe…, Dialogue de l’ombre double, and the inescapable Répons.