pierre boulez & l'ensemble intercontemporain

Pierre Boulez is name-checked on the cover of "Freak Out!" (1966) under the heading "These People Have Contributed Materially In Many Ways To Make Our Music What It Is. Please Do Not Hold It Against Them", long before he collaborated with FZ on the album "Boulez Conducts Zappa: The Perfect Stranger" (1984). He is also name-checked in "The Real Frank Zappa Book" (1989).

He is also mentioned in "My Favorite Records", an FZ penned article in Hit Parader (1967): "Also, Pierre Boulez conducts his own composition: 'Le Marteau Sans Maître'. I don't know what label that's on, but it's the one with Boulez conducting. The one by Robert Craft has too many mistakes."

Boulez (1925, Montbrison, France), became one of the most distinguished composers and conductors in the world. Through his own compositions and his activities as author, teacher, and advocate of contemporary music, he has made a decisive contribution to the development of music in the twentieth century. Boulez's positions with three major symphony orchestras gained him an international reputation as a foremost interpreter of music by Alan Berg, Anton Friedrich Ernst von Webern, and Arnold Schoenberg as well as Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Igor Stravinsky, and Richard Wagner. Weber, Schoenberg and Stravinsky are also name-checked on the cover of "Freak Out!".

After an initial training in mathematics, he studied piano, composition, and choral conducting at the Paris Conservatoire (1943-5), where his teachers included Olivier Messiaen and René Leibowitz. He became musical director of Barrault's Théâtre Marigny (1948), where he established his reputation as an interpreter of contemporary music. In 1953-54, he founded the Concerts du Petit Marigny, one of the first concert series entirely dedicated to the performance of modern music, which later became the Domaine Musical series.

Throughout the next decade, he was much involved with musical analysis and he taught composition at the Music Academy in Basel (1960-62). Boulez began his conducting career in 1958 with the Südwestfunk Orchestra in Baden-Baden, Germany. From 1962-63, he was visiting professor at Harvard University.

Pierre Boulez first appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on subscription concerts in February 1969 conducting Claude Debussy's "Jeux", Béla Bartók's "First Piano Concerto" with Daniel Barenboim, Anton Friedrich Ernst von Webern's "Passacaglia" and "Six Pieces for Orchestra", and Olivier Messiaen's "Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum". His reputation as a leading musician brought him to the attention of George Szell, who invited him to conduct in the United States for the first time with the Cleveland Orchestra. From 1969 until 1972, Boulez was principal guest conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra. In 1971, he became chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra (1971-5) and, that same year, he succeeded Leonard Bernstein as music director of the New York Philharmonic, a position he held until 1977.

His difference of opinion about state intervention in the arts as espoused by André Malraux led Boulez into voluntary exile for several years. He returned to France in triumph in 1974 when the French government under President Georges Pompidou decided to build a music research center at the Pompidou Centre and invited Boulez to be its creator and director. In 1976 he became a professor at the Collège de France, and in 1977 he became director of the Institut de Recherche et de Co-ordination Acoustique Musique (IRCAM) at the Pompidou Centre in Paris (he is also co-founder of Cité de la Musique, another music center in Paris). From IRCAM sprang the creation of a major and permanent instrumental group, the Ensemble InterContemporain, one of the world's finest contemporary music ensembles which Boulez conducted regularly, in France as well as on extended tours abroad.

In 1991 Boulez resigned as conductor of the Ensemble InterContemporain, while continuing as its president; that same year he was guest artistic director of the Scotia Festival. In 1992 he conducted Peter Stein's new production of Claude Debussy's "Pelléas et Mélisande" with the Welsh National Opera on a European tour that began in Cardiff. In January 1993, this production (released as a video by Deutsche Grammophon) was named "1992 Opera Production of the Year" at the International Classical Music Awards in London. At the 1992 Salzburg Festival, Boulez appeared with the Ensemble InterContemporain, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1993, he conducted the Berlin Philharmonic for the first time in almost 30 years. In 1994 he led the orchestra at a Webern festival during the 1994 Berliner Festwochen.

To celebrate his 70th birthday in 1995, Pierre Boulez undertook a world tour with the London Symphony and a host of international stars including Maurizio Pollini, Jessye Norman, Gidon Kremer, Anne-Sophie Mutter and Mstislav Rostropovich. In 1995, Boulez conducted Peter Stein's production of Arnold Schoenberg's opera "Moses and Aaron" at the Nederlandse Opera in Amsterdam and led the opera's premiere at the 1996 Salzburg Festival.

Pierre Boulez's discography includes prize-winning recordings of "Parsifal" from Bayreuth and Berg's "Lulu" (world premiere recording). In 1989, he signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon to record a broad range of twentieth-century masterworks with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, and the Berlin Philharmonic as well as contemporary repertoire, including his own works, with the Ensemble InterContemporain. Boulez has won 23 Grammy Awards since 1967, five of those were with the Chicago Symphony. His recording of Béla Bartók's "The Wooden Prince" and "Cantata profana" with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus received four 1993 Grammy Awards for "Best Classical Album", "Best Orchestral Performance", "Best Performance of a Choral Work", and "Best Engineered Recording-Classical". He won two 1994 Grammy Awards ("Best Classical Album" and "Best Orchestral Performance") for his recording of Béla Bartók's "Concerto for Orchestra and Four Orchestral Pieces, Op. 12" with the CSO. Boulez's 1994 awards were presented to him in a special ceremony at Orchestra Hall in December, 1995. In 1995, Pierre Boulez was awarded the German Record Critics Award for his contribution to 20th-century music, named "Artist of the Year" by the magazine Gramophone, and honored at the Victoires De La Musique in France. In 1996 Boulez received the Berlin Arts Prize, and the Royal Swedish Academy of Music awarded him the Polar Music Prize. He won the 1997 Grammy Award for "Best Orchestral Performance" for a recording of Berlioz's "Symphonie fantastique" and "Tristia" with the Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus. Boulez most recently received a 1999 Grammy Award for "Best Classical Contemporary Composition" for the recording of his work, "Répons", with the Ensemble InterContemporain. His many awards and honors include honorary doctorates from Leeds, Cambridge, Basel, and Oxford universities, among others; Commander of the British Empire; and Knight of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

His numerous compositions are widely performed. His early work as a composer rebelled against what he saw as the conservatism of such composers as Stravinsky and Schoenberg. Of his later works, "Le Marteau sans maître" (1955) - "The Hammer Without a Master" - gained him a worldwide reputation, confirmed by "Pli selon pli" - "Fold according to Fold" - and his third piano sonata.

Boulez also has published five books about music.

Boulez worked with soprano soloist Sylvia Brigham-Dimiziani, who is also name-checked as Sylvia Brigham on the cover of "Freak Out!" (1966) under the heading "These People Have Contributed Materially In Many Ways To Make Our Music What It Is. Please Do Not Hold It Against Them".

Luciano Berio, Pierre Boulez, Karel Goeyvaerts, Mauricio Kagel, György Ligeti, Luigi Nono, and Karlheinz Stockhausen belong to that handful of composers that provoked a landslide in the music of the ‘50s and ‘60s of the past century, that has remained unparalleled up to now.



frank zappa: boulez conducts zappa, the perfect stranger
   (1984, lp, usa, angel)





The Holland Festival

both ircam and the ensemble are active.  here are links to both;

ensemble intercontemporain


ircam home page


their sole project with zappa was of course "the perfect stranger", conducted by pierre boulez.  for this project, the ensemble intercontemporain was recorded january 10 & 11 1984, at ircam, paris. 

members of the ensemble intercontemporain at that time were:

 producer: frank zappa
recording engineer: didier arditi
umrk 1992 re-mix & eq: spencer chrislu
engineer: bob stone
fz approved master, 1993
computer programmer: david ocker
special software: steve difuria
cover: (detail) american artist: donald roller wilson

        from: ben watson
zappa made contact with ircam, the center for sonic exploration built beneath the pompidou center in paris and run by pierre boulez, when he visited to experiment with giuseppe di giugno's 4x digital signal processor.  that zappa's music should be conducted by pierre boulez was generally greeted with incredulity.
he puzzled the press with his reticence in praising zappa's scores. "i reserve judgement about all the qualities of zappa's music", he told liberation (1987).  out of press conferences, though, he replied to a question asking if he liked zappa's music by saying, "certainly.  i found a kind of vitality and it was very good for our musicians to do that: they were not accustomed at all to it, and that's good to work on it." (nov 18th, 1990).

 the perfect stranger appeared on emi's classical subsidiary angel.  

        from: the real frank zappa book
                pierre boulez
i met boulez after sending him some orchestral scores, hoping that he would be interested in conducting them.  he wrote back saying he couldn't because, although he did have a chamber orchestra of twenty-eight pieces, he did not have a full-size symphony orchestra at his disposal in france (and even if he did, he probably wouldn't have used it, as he later stated that he  didn't care for 'the french orchestral tone', preferring the bbc symphony).
i bought my first boulez album when i was in the twelfth grade:  a columbia recording of "le marteau sans maitre" (the hammer without a master) conducted by robert craft, with "zetmasse" (time-mass) by stockhausen on the other side.
within a year or so of that, i managed to get hold of a score.  i listened to the record while following the score, and i noticed that the performance was not very accurate.  i later acquired a recording of "le marteau" on the turnabout label, with boulez conducting, and was surprised to find that he took the first movement much more slowly than the tempo marked in score.  i razzed him about it when we met.
boulez is, to use one of thomas nordegg's favorite phrases, "serious as cancer," but he can be funny too.  he reminds me a little of the character that herbert lom plays in the pink panther movies.  he doesn't have the 'psychotic wink', but he has some of that nervous quality about him, as if he might -given the proper excuse- start laughing uncontrollably.
i went to lunch with him in paris, prior to the perfect stranger recording.  he ordered something called brebis du [fill in the blank]-- i didn't know what it was.  it was some kind of meatlike material on weird lettuce with a translucent dressing.  he looked like he was really enjoying it.  he offered some to me.  i asked him what it was.  he said, "the sliced nose of the cow."  i thanked him and went back to my pepper steak.
i saw him conduct the new york philharmonic with phyllis bryn-julson as soloist at lincoln center in '86 or '87.  the audience was extremely rude. the first half of the program had pieces by stravinksy and debussy; the second half was a piece by boulez.  after the intermission, the audience came back in and waited for him to begin his piece -which was very quiet compared to the first two- and then about half the audience got up -noisily- and walked out.  he kept on conducting.
i would have enjoyed the opportunity to grab a microphone and scream, "sit down, assholes!  this is one of the 'the real guys'!"

               the perfect stranger
since releasing the lso album, i have turned down at least fifteen commissions from chamber music groups of varying sizes from all over the world who offered me cash to write a piece of music for them.  if i were a composer just starting out, i would think that was the greatest thing in the world - but i don't have the time anymore, and i shudder to think what would happen to my music if they played it without my being there during the rehearsals. complicating matters, these commissions are offered in a way that requires my presence at the premiere performance - during which i would be expected to sit there and pretend it was terrific.
that's what happened to me when boulez conducted the live premiere of "dupree's paradise," "the perfect stranger" and "naval aviation in art?". it was underrehearsed.
i hated that premiere.  boulez virtually had to drag me onto the stage to take a bow.  i was sitting on a chair off to the side of the stage during the concert, and i could see the seat squirting out of the musicians' foreheads.  then they had to go into the ircam studio the next day and record it.

        from: daniel norris (suzy) (dnorris@haywire.csuhayward.edu)
i got in an argument with a musical snob friend of mine (oh, i'm a snob too, but not like this), who insisted that the name was pronounced "bou-lay".  of course, this guy also pronounces shubert as "sue-bear", which i find incredibly irritating.

        from: biffyshrew (biffyshrew@aol.com)
it's pronounced boo-lez.  zappa even asked him. you're making the mistake of applying rules of standard french pronunciation to somebody's proper name, which doesn't necessarily follow said rules.  i assure you that boulez pronounces his own name "boo-lez." if you think that's bad french, then argue with him, not me.

        from: paul hinrichs (paulhinr@mindspring.com)
...and he pronounces "pierre" as "perrier" (not like the overpriced ht-oh in bottles, rhymes with "terrier") and gets very disgusted, to the point of spitting, when someone mispronounces it. that's why ike willis always called him "_mr._ boo-lezzzz", he was that unpredicable when you got it wrong. better not to risk it, he'd go off like a hammer without a master...

     from: queensac (queensac@msn.com)
this is from the deutsche grammophon website:

varèse's influence on other composers, not just from the classical world
by  p.boulez

perhaps the best example regarding this phenomenum was frank zappa. i knew frank zappa quite well. his great interest was varèse's music. it certainly had a great influence on his thinking and on his material. it was very interesting to watch how someone like zappa was hypnotised by varèse. though zappa was in a different world, varese's music was still influential in an osmosis kind of way. it is not immediately appreciable nonetheless still very acute. 
anyone can of course take from him. but you know, a generation has its own point of view and for example for my generation varèse was practically unknown, especially from a french point of view. he was french but exiled in the us for a long time. through a student of his of the generation of messiaen, he was represented still in france after the war. but it meant he was a kind a myth and remained an unknown quantity.
his works were just not performed. in fact i gave the first performances of varèse after the war at the domaine musicale. i remember the performance of déserts was a big scandal. not due to the instrumental music but due to the tape music. the tape was performed at a level of loudness that was practically unbearable to cover the protest! so nobody heard the music properly. poor varèse was upset and offended by the reception he received. his relationship with the french musical community was always a tortured one. he had some projects in the 1930s in france for which he came back from the us, but they never materialised. so he went back disappointed. i was one of the rare frenchmen with whom he communicated.


zappa discography / filmography:

1984 frank zappa- boulez conducts zappa: the perfect stranger 

1987 the amazing mr. bickford (vhs)




the others of invention



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