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Boulez wins the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award for the influence of his compositions and his engagement with musical thought and transmission

Madrid, Madrid, Spain

Boulez has combined composition at the very highest level with the direction of leading orchestras, an intense teaching effort, and the creation of front-line centers for the investigation and transmission of contemporary music, like IRCAM, or Ensemble InterContemporain

The jury has singled out his “acute awareness of the artist’s intellectual and social responsibility in the modern age”

MADRID, Feb. 12, 2013 — The fifth annual BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Contemporary Music category goes to Pierre Boulez, in recognition that “he is not only an eminent composer, with a determinedly forward vision, but also a key figure engaging in every aspect of musical reflection and transmission,” in the words of the award citation. “The sum of his activities,” the jury concludes, “evidences an acute awareness of the artist’s intellectual and social responsibility in the modern age.”

Pierre Boulez (Montbrison,1925) was a leading figure in the “historical avant-garde” that flourished in Darmstadt (Germany) in the 1950s, formed also by composers of the stature of Stockhausen, Berio, Ligeti and Nono. Boulez is considered to be the nexus between his forebears, his own generation and the composers of today.

His career has been defined by three intersecting paths which the jury chose to highlight. The first is Boulez the composer, thinker and teacher, whose works and writings marked a radical change in the way of understanding music, and are now an established part of the contemporary repertoire: Penser la Musique aujourd’hui (1964), Releves d’apprenti (1966), Par volonte et par hasard (1975), Points de repere (1985) are some examples of his legacy in this respect.

“From his beginnings as an artist,” the jury affirms, “Pierre Boulez has opened up new perspectives in music. He has renewed musical writing and thought from the very foundations, applying a critical synthesis of the recent past and integrating elements of non-European music.”

The second path belongs to Boulez the conductor, who has appeared at several festivals including Bayreuth (1966 and 1976), Donaueschingen, Salzburg, Berlin and Edinburgh, and taken the helm of some of the world’s finest orchestras, including Cleveland (1967), Chicago (1995), the New York Philharmonic (1971-1978), and the BBC Symphony Orchestra (1971-1975), among others.

On this facet of the man, the jury remarks: “As a conductor, he has not only championed contemporary composers, but has also renewed the orchestral repertoire and rejuvenated concert programming, in order to bring the public to a new understanding of music.”

Boulez himself has this to say about balancing the two labors: “The problem with my life is that I am actually living two lives. I have the life of a composer, which is pure creativity, and I have the life of a performer, which involves reproducing something that is already there (...). The real complication is finding time for the two. If I was told you’re not going to conduct any more... it wouldn’t bother me for long; what is really important to me is to compose. If, on the other hand, I was told you are not going to write anything else, but just conduct, that would make me very unhappy, because it would kill a part of my creativity.”

But there is still a third facet: the institutional Boulez, the force behind groundbreaking initiatives in the investigation and practice of the music of our time, like the Institut de Recherche et de Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM), Ensemble InterContemporain, Cite de la Musique or the Opera Bastille.

Through the creation of the IRCAM research institute and Ensemble InterContemporain, the first ever permanent contemporary music ensemble, Boulez, says the jury, has “helped to strengthen the connections between scientific investigation, composition and musical practice.”

The new laureate is clear about the differences between scientific and artistic creation: “In science you have progress. What scientists do today is more concrete than what they did back in the 16th century. Not because they are more intelligent, but because they were born when science was at a more advanced stage. In music, there is not progress, only change. Wagner does not represent progress with respect to Mozart, they are on the same level of excellence.”

Biography and milestones

Pierre Boulez was born on March 26, 1925 in Montbrison (Loire). He began studying mathematics at college in Lyon, before deciding at age 17 to leave for Paris and devote himself to music. “I never had a moment’s doubt. I knew I had a gift for music above anything else, and was drawn to it as if by a magnet. I felt I had to do it,” he recalls today.

In Paris, he trained with Olivier Messiaen – his maestro – Andree Vaurabourg and Rene Leibowitz, who introduced him to the twelve-tone technique.

Soon he would be leading a rupture in the way of understanding music in the wake of great composers like Mahler, Schonberg, Stravinsky or Webern. This change, which Messiaen glossed, before recanting, in his brief but celebrated study for piano Modes of Values and Intensities, resided in the extension of Schonberg’s ideas on the twelve-tone technique and the series as an organizing harmonic principle, to what Boulez called “generalized series,” consisting of the application of transformational and combining principles not only to pitch, but also to durations, dynamics and modes of attack.

In 1946, aged just 21, he was appointed Music Director of the Renaud-Barrauld Company, which brought the “total theater” concept to France and spread its message round the world. It was at this point that Boulez began to develop his total serialism technique.

In the early 1950s, he began teaching musical analysis at the Darmstadt Summer Courses, where he would exert a decisive influence in the new musical languages emerging after the Second World War. It is in this academic and creative setting that he composed the work that would seal his growing reputation: Le marteau sans maitre (The Hammer Without a Master, 1955) to texts by the surrealist poet Rene Char. This work was written for a musical grouping of the most unconventional variety, comprised by mezzo-soprano, alto flute, viola, guitar, vibraphone, marimba, and percussion. The instrumentation found room for non-Western percussion traditions, extended vocal techniques, and textures that explored other forms of perceiving time. It was also a vehicle for Boulez to develop his ideas of proliferation and multiplication of the sound material through a set of matrices interwoven with a sharply fragmented discourse of short rhythmic and timbric patterns to form a discontinuous continuum that was entirely innovative in its time.

From the 1960s, his growing prestige as a conductor led to invitations from leading orchestras, initially in Paris, then Los Angeles, Bayreuth (Germany), Japan, concluding in 1967 with the post of guest conductor with the Cleveland Orchestra. In 1969, he was appointed chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, alternating his duties there with his work as music director of the New York Philharmonic, where he took over from Leonard Bernstein. He also found time to teach conducting courses in Basel and to publish works which would stand as cornerstones of contemporary aesthetic thought: Penser la musique aujourd’hui and Releves d’apprenti.

He left his post with the British orchestra in 1976 (and the American in 1977), in order to concentrate on the institutional facet of his musical enterprise. It was in these years that he set up the Institut de Recherche et de Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM) – one of the world’s top electronic music studios, housed in the Pompidou Center – which he founded and led until 1991. In 1976, he established Ensemble InterContemporain, which not only specializes in the performance of contemporary works, but also promotes musical creation by commissioning works from authors in every corner of the world, selected by a panel of composers, musicologists and eminent professionals. Each year’s commissions, between three and five, are later premiered in the Tremplin concerts. More than 500 compositions owe their existence to this Ensemble InterContemporain funding program. The Ensemble also engages in multimedia projects wedding music, dance, cinema, opera, theater and visual arts.

Despite his dedication to the IRCAM, he found time in the 1980s to compose a number of pieces including Dialogue de l’ombre double, Dérive, Antiphonies and Répons, to tour Europe, the United States and Australia with Ensemble InterContemporain, and to take on regular conducting duties with the BBC, Cleveland, Los Angeles and Chicago orchestras.

His conducting activity became even more intense after he stepped down as head of IRCAM. In 1995, he inaugurated the Cite de la Musique concerts in Paris; toured Paris, London, Vienna and New York with the London Symphony Orchestra; took part in the Boulez Festival in Tokyo; conducted Schonberg’s Moses and Aaron in the Amsterdam Opera House; received two Grammys, along with the Edison and Grammophon awards; and was named principal guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In 1997, he premiered Anthemes 2.

In the first decade of the 21st century, Boulez took some periods of leave from his busy conducting schedule to compose and premiere Derive 2. In 2005, coinciding with his 80th birthday celebrations, he was appointed honorary member of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde Wien and the Vienna Philharmonic, and honorary conductor of the Staatskapelle Berlin.

In the words of composer and musicologist Jonathan Goldman, “Boulez’s stature . . . owes much to the way in which his ideas, elaborated in many thousands of pages of writings, appealed to public intellectuals like Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze. Boulez’s music and writings also interface with philosophical, literary or art-historical themes and are informed by fruitful reflections on thinkers, poets and artists, from Paul Klee to Rene Char, from Paul Valery to Henri Michaux, from Stephane Mallarme to James Joyce.”

Among his many compositional milestones, we can cite the Third Piano Sonata (1956-1957), with which he initiated his exploration of the open-ended work. Open-endedness refers here to a form of scoring where certain choices are left to the performer, who may elect to follow one or other of several paths which sub-divide, in turn, giving rise to an infinity of interpretative possibilities. Boulez himself has frequently compared this kind of score to a city map which the traveler can navigate in countless different ways. Works like Dialogue de l’ombre double (1985), Repons (1981-1988), Explosante-fixe (1991-1993) and Anthemes 2 (1997) are representative of the time spent at IRCAM investigating the relationship between instruments and electronics.

From his symphonic repertoire, perhaps the key works are Visage nuptial (1946-1989) for soprano, alto, ondes martenot, piano and percussion, an example of Boulez’s famous “works in progress” which has spawned several subsequent versions: Visage nuptial (2nd version) (1951) for soprano, alto, female chorus and orchestra; and a definitive version (1985-1989) for soprano, mezzo-soprano, chorus and orchestra, alongside Eclat Multiples (1966-1970), Rituel in memoriam Bruno Maderna for orchestra in 8 groups (1974-1975), Notations I-IV for full orchestra (1980) and Notations VII for orchestra (1989).

Asked about his three-way activity as composer, conductor and institutional mover at a recent talk in the Italian Cultural Institute in Paris, Pierre Boulez replied that he had often got involved out of sheer circumstances. Quite simply the need was there and he stepped in. In the Domaine Musical concerts, for instance, there was no conductor, so he ended up leading one of his own works and went on from there to a conducting career.

The search for solutions to current problems in composition led him to envision a center where scientists and artists could explore the acoustic principles of sound, develop new compositional strategies bridging music and science, and integrating electronic and IT resources. The result was IRCAM, which, along with similar institutions in other countries, has made the use of electronics and real-time processing an indispensable part of the composer’s armory, particularly among the younger generations. Similarly, Domaine Musical or the Ensemble InterContemporain could be said to have arisen from the imperative of having performers skilled in the use of this new language. “One thing I can’t stand,” says Boulez, “is when people complain that there is no X or that they’re missing Y. If you need something and it's not there, then you have to create it.”

The jury, finally, makes reference to Boulez’s pedagogical labors: “In the past few years,” it states, “he has been engaged in an educational project in Lucerne aimed at training new generations of musicians in the repertoires of the 20th and 21st centuries, an effort which the recently created Foundation bearing his name will now carry forward.”

BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Awards

The BBVA Foundation primarily engages in the generation and diffusion of scientific knowledge and culture, through ongoing programs in the areas of basic sciences, biomedicine, ecology and conservation biology, social sciences, literary and musical creation, and the visual arts.

Its focus on the core concerns of today’s society, like health or the environment, has materialized in major research projects, including those involving the study of cancer. The Foundation’s support for research, advanced training and knowledge dissemination is also manifest in a series of award families which not only honor the winners’ contributions but also shed a wider light on their fields of work, the values they represent and the combined endeavors of the research and creative communities.

The BBVA Foundation established its Frontiers of Knowledge Awards in 2008 to recognize the authors of outstanding contributions and radical advances in a broad range of scientific and technological areas characteristic of our times. They are in this sense a prize family congruent with the knowledge map and central challenges of the 21st century.

The nominations received from leading universities and research and cultural centers all round the world, the independence and objectivity of the prize juries formed by reputed specialists in their respective fields, and the excellence of the laureates in their earlier editions have earned these awards, devised and organized from Spain, a firm place among the world’s foremost award schemes. The BBVA Foundation is assisted in this initiative by the country’s premier multidisciplinary research organization, the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), and by the presence of Spanish scientists and creative practitioners on the international juries.

The CSIC collaborates in the appointment of Technical Evaluation Committees for each prize category made up of acknowledged experts in the relevant domain. This Committee undertakes an initial assessment of candidates and draws up a reasoned shortlist for the consideration of the juries.

In the Contemporary Music category, Committee members were Cristina de la Puente, research scientist and coordinator of the Council’s Humanities and Social Sciences Area, Emilio Ros-Fábregas, research scientist at the “Milá y Fontanals” Institution (CSIC), and Tess Knighton, research professor at the “Milá y Fontanals” Institution.

The Frontiers awards provide an international showcase for the best qualities of Spain and Spanish science, and have achieved the endorsement of the world scientific community, whose members have served on the juries and put forward nominations from their posts in eminent Spanish and international academic and research institutions.

In their fifth edition, the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Awards wish to offer support and recognition to the individuals and teams working for a better future for people through the advancement of knowledge, innovation and culture and their dissemination to society; goals and practices that are also at the center of the BBVA Group culture.

In an economic context marked by a prolonged economic crisis and the adoption of short-term measures to tackle its multiple causes and manifestations, science, the environment and culture have dropped further down the list of public priorities. The BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Awards, and the Foundation’s broader program to foster scientific knowledge and culture, wish to drive home the message that these three areas are of transcendental importance for our collective wellbeing and individual opportunities.

The eight categories of the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Awards, each carrying prize money of 400,000 euros, respond to the knowledge map of the early 21st century, but also to key global challenges that have never before merited a specific honor on this scale, as with the two environmental categories – Ecology and Conservation Biology and Climate Change – and the category of Development Cooperation. These stand alongside the classic categories of Basic Sciences, Biomedicine and Economics, Finance and Management. Finally, the award family is completed by Contemporary Music, an art at the leading edge of cultural innovation to which the BBVA Foundation devotes a broad-ranging support program, and where Spain is home to a wide and talented community of authors, conductors and performers.

International jury

The jury in this category was chaired by Edith Canat de Chizy, composer and member of the Academie de Beaux-Arts, Institute de France (France), with Ranko Markovic , Artistic Director of the Konservatorium Wien Privatuniversitat (Austria) acting as secretary. Remaining members were Philippe Albera, Director of Contrechamps Editions (France); composer Cristobal Halffter, member of the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando and 2009 Frontiers of Knowledge laureate in Contemporary Music; Winrich Hopp, Artistic Director of Musikfest Berlin (Berliner Festspiele) and the Musica Viva concert series (Germany); Johannes Kalitzke , composer and conductor with the Komische Oper Berlin (Germany); Martin Kaltenecker , Associate Professor of Musicology at Universite Paris Diderot (France); and Dimitri Vassilakis , pianist and member of Ensemble Intercontemporain (France).

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