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Pierre Boulez (1925-2016)

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Mahler, conducted by Pierre Boulez

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Wagner, Das Ring der Nibelungen (dir. Patrice Chéreau), Bayreuth Festspiele, P. Boulez
Pierre Boulez est mort! The lion of modernism died yesterday, at age 90, and is survived by all those phenomena he advocated destroying over the years -- opera houses, the Mona Lisa, the Paris Opera, history. While he was a tyrannical Futurist when it came to new music -- "We live in a century of libraries, drowning under the weight of amassed documents," he said in 2011, "They decry the Taliban for destroying everything, but civilizations are destroyed to be able to move on.” -- his greatest achievements were at the podium as a conductor, bringing an incisive clarity to old, even classic scores. His work in the Patrice Chéreau Centennial Ring Cycle is an eternal Ionarts favorite, and his conducting has featured in these pages, thanks to our European correspondents. We have had a few chances to hear some of his music performed in recent years here in Washington, but it has mostly left me unmoved. One can only hope that certain rigid compositional pieties will die with him.

To mark his passing, France Musique has published a multimedia tribute, Boulez à Facettes : de la fulgurance au plaisir, and you can watch a recent long (fascinating) interview with him from the Cité de la Musique (en français). You can also watch the 2015 tribute concert at the Philharmonie de Paris, at which Boulez's beloved ensemble, the Ensemble Intercontemporain, performed his composition Répons, with Matthias Pintscher conducting. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra also has a tribute page, as does the New York Philharmonic.

France Musique has also made available an old live recording of a concert that Boulez conducted in 1981, with the Orchestre National de France and the Choeur de Radio France. In addition to Stravinsky's Le Chant du Rossignol and Schoeberg's Pélleas et Mélisande, soprano Phyllis Bryn Julson is soloist in Boulez's composition Le Soleil des eaux.

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