Pierre Boulez CBE (French: [pjɛʁ bu.lɛːz]; 26 March 1925 – 5 January 2016) was a French composer, conductor, writer and organiser of institutions. He was one of the dominant figures of the post-war classical music world.
Born in Montbrison in the Loire district of France, the son of an engineer, Boulez studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Olivier Messiaen, and privately with Andrée Vaurabourg and René Leibowitz. He began his professional career in the late 1940s as Music Director of the Renaud-Barrault theatre company in Paris. As a young composer in the 1950s he quickly became a leading figure in the musical avant-garde, playing an important role in the development of integral serialism and controlled chance music. From the 1970s onwards he pioneered the electronic transformation of instrumental music in real time. His tendency to revise pieces meant that his body of completed works was relatively small—but it included pieces widely regarded as landmarks of twentieth-century music, such as Le marteau sans maître, Pli selon pli and Répons. His commitment to the modernist project and the trenchant, polemical tone in which he expressed his views on music led some to criticise him as a dogmatist, a reputation which softened in later years.
In parallel with his activities as a composer Boulez became one of the leading conductors of his generation. In a career lasting more than sixty years he conducted most of the world's great orchestras and held the positions of Chief Conductor of the New York Philharmonic and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Music Director of the Ensemble Intercontemporain and Principal Guest Conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Cleveland Orchestra. He made frequent guest appearances with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra. He was particularly known for his performances of the music of the first half of the twentieth-century, including that of Debussy and Ravel, Stravinsky and Bartok, and the Second Viennese School. He also gave authoritative performances of works by his contemporaries, such as Luciano Berio and Elliott Carter. His work in the opera house included major productions such as the Jahrhundertring—the production of Wagner's Ring cycle for the centenary of the Bayreuth Festival—and the world premiere of the complete, three-act version of Alban Berg's Lulu. His recorded legacy is extensive and he received 26 Grammy Awards.
He founded a number of musical institutions in Paris, including the Domaine musical, the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM), the Ensemble Intercontemporain and the Cité de la musique, as well as the Lucerne Festival Academy in Switzerland.
Boulez died at his home in Baden-Baden on 5 January 2016, aged 90.