Pierre Boulez (1925 — 2016)

6 January 2016
Another great one has left the building.

Pierre Boulez was Music Director of the New York Philharmonic from 1971 to 1977, right around the time I started going to orchestra concerts on a regular basis. He introduced a lot of new music to the subscribers, many of whom left concerts early rather than have their ears and brains challenged. Those who stayed got to hear some truly thrilling music.

I was always impressed with Boulez’s ability to make the standard repertoire sound fresh and new. If he led a performance of a piece I was sure I knew inside out and backwards, he was always sure to bring out some detail I had never before noticed.

Boulez instituted “Rug Concerts” in the summertime, in an effort to attract younger audiences, and I remember those with great nostalgia. Seats were removed from the hall, and the audience sat on mats on the floor. The orchestra played in front of the stage, and one could sit on the stage, behind the players, and witness the music from the players’ point of view.

During the regular season, I always brought scores to follow. It would be too dark to read at my assigned seat, so I would grab an empty front-row seat, and read the score from the light spilling off the stage. At one concert, Boulez looked over his shoulder at me from the podium, and asked me, “Are you ready?” I blushed and said, “Yes. Go ahead,” and then he faced the orchestra and gave the downbeat.

Pierre Boulez leaves a great legacy of recorded performances, and these will remain a vital reminder of his talent and influence.

Thank you, Maestro.