French Composer Pierre Boulez Dies At 90 : Deceptive Cadence The composer and conductor changed the way we hear music, not only through his own compositions but in the concerts he conducted. He died Tuesday at the age of 90.

French Composer Pierre Boulez Dies At 90

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French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez was one of the most recognized figures in 20th century classical music. His outspoken advocacy for the music of his time earned him fans and detractors. He died yesterday at his home in Germany. He was 90 years old. NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas has this appreciation.

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: Just as the chaos of World War II was coming to an end, Pierre Boulez was emerging into his life as an artist.


PIERRE BOULEZ: At the beginning of the war, I was 14. And at the end of the war, I was 20. That's the main development years you have when you forge yourself.

TSIOULCAS: That's Boulez in a 2005 interview with WHYY's Fresh Air. What Boulez wanted to forge was not just his own creative identity. He wanted to liberate the sound of European music entirely.


BOULEZ: Between 1945 and now, I think I tried through a certain discipline force to find a freedom.


TSIOULCAS: After the war, Boulez worked with theater directors, poets and other young artists who wanted to overthrow the status quo. In his own music, he drew upon the energy and inspiration of all of those art forms, along with music from around the world.


TSIOULCAS: In the late 1970s, he founded IRCAM, an institution dedicated to exploring all of the possibilities of contemporary music. Among the first composers to work there was American Tod Machover. He says that Boulez had gifts beyond music.

TOD MACHOVER: He was incredibly charming - the kind of person who could have a conversation with just about anybody.

TSIOULCAS: Over time, Boulez became part of the establishment - or maybe more correctly, the establishment embraced him and his ideas. He was invited to conduct major orchestras around the world. As music director of the New York Philharmonic, he had audiences sitting on rugs on the floor decades before classical musicians started playing in bars. And along the way, he won 26 Grammys.


TSIOULCAS: Boulez was a singular figure, says conductor David Robertson, who led Boulez's group, the Ensemble Intercontemporain. Now he's music director of the St. Louis Symphony.

DAVID ROBERTSON: There was an incredible, exacting intellect, but it was combined with a marvelous sense of humor.

TSIOULCAS: But Boulez could be a quite a firebrand, too. His polemics became infamous. And even in his later years, he did not mince his words.


BOULEZ: You must not really think of reaching an audience. You must think first to express yourself.

TSIOULCAS: That meant that he also conducted music from the past that he loved.


TSIOULCAS: Boulez saw all of his work as part of a continuum, as he told NPR 2005.


BOULEZ: Music is in constant evolution. And there is nothing absolutely fixed and rigidly determined. You have a concept of evolution, and you have to participate in your time.

TSIOULCAS: Composer and conductor Pierre Boulez was always ahead of his time. Anastasia Tsioulcas, NPR News, New York.

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