2010 Honorary Doctorate
Since the 1950s Pierre Boulez has been one of the most important figures in western music, a composer, a conductor and an inspiration to all other musicians.
As a composer he first came to prominence in the late 1940s with his second piano sonata, written in his early twenties after studies with Messiaen and an immersion in the Schoenbergian principles of serial composition with René Leibowitz. His rapid growth in reputation was a result of the recognition afforded to the 1955 Le marteau sans maître for contralto and sextet, a work whose combination of delectableness and stringency has made it a classic of modern music. A further development of his techniques and ideas produced the brilliant Pli selon Pli (1957-62) for soprano and an orchestra rich in percussion, a portrait in music of the poet Mallarmé that established Boulez at the forefront of the European avant-garde.
He more and more frequently appeared as a conductor, using at first his brilliant mental and technical skills as a conductor of contemporary music, notably with the Domaine Musical he founded in Paris, but beginning rapidly to be engaged to conduct a wider range of music, performing Wagner in Bayreuth, Guillaume de Machaut in Los Angeles and Beethoven in London. His appointment in 1971 as Principal Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in London had far reaching effects on the musical life of Britain and Europe, while his acceptance of the Principal Conductor position of the New York Philharmonic had an equally stimulating effect on American music.
A few important works were achieved during this period, with the composer Boulez seeming to thrive on the conductor Boulez’s close contact with the orchestra and with the art and act of conducting, evidenced in particular in his Eclat/Multiples (1970) and Rituel (1974-75). He left all his official conducting positions in the mid-1970s, as he accepted the invitation of the French President George Pompidou to create and direct the Institut de Recherche et de Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM), the famous computer-music research centre in Paris, followed by founding the Ensemble Intercontemporain, one of the world’s finest contemporary music ensembles and being appointed Professor at the most prestigious College de France.
Leaving his position as director of IRCAM at the end of 1991, he considerably intensified his conducting activities again, creating close relationships with outstanding American and European orchestras. He conducted the inauguration concert of the cite de la musique at La Villette, a four orchestra Boulez-Festival in Tokyo, prestigious worldwide tours with the London Symphony Orchestra to celebrate his 70th, 75th and 80th birthdays and new productions of Schoenberg's Moses and Aaron with Peter Stein, Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle with Pina Bausch, a De Falla/Stravinsky/Schoenberg production staged by Klaus Michael Grüber, and he returned to Bayreuth in 2004 and 2005 to conduct Parsifal. 2007 saw his renewed and highly acclaimed collaboration with Patrice Chéreau for the staging of Janaceks' opera From the House of the Dead in Vienna, Amsterdam and Aix-en-Provence. After being ‘Le Grand Invité’ in November 2008 of le Musée du Louvre, he was appointed composer-in-residence at the Mozartwoche in Salzburg. In 2009 after joining forces with Daniel Barenboim to conduct Mahler’s complete symphonic works in Carnegie Hall, Pierre Boulez received the Inamori Foundation's 25th Annual Kyoto Prize for his ‘Lifetime Achievement in Arts and Philosophy’ and then continued to celebrate his 85th birthday with concerts with prestigious orchestras around the world in Chicago, New York, Cleveland, Paris, Vienna and Berlin.
Devoting a considerable amount of time to recording the important works of the 20th century, Pierre Boulez signed an exclusive recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon in 1992, his recordings being recognised with more than 25 Grammy awards, as well as amongst others, Gramophone, Echo and Deutscher Schallplatten-Awards.
At the same time Boulez has continued his work as a composer, writing Incises, sur Incises, Anthèmes 2, Notations VII, Dérive 2, assuming the tenure of the Composer's Chair at Carnegie Hall and being named conductor emeritus of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Acclaimed world-wide, numerous prizes such as the Siemens Music Prize (Germany), Léonie Sonning Music Prize (Denmark), Praemium Imperiale (Japan), Polar Music Prize (Sweden), Wolf Prize (Israel) and the Grawemeyer Award (USA) were awarded to him and honorary doctorates conferred upon him.
Throughout his long and influential life Pierre Boulez has inspired generations of musicians around the world. For the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, Pierre Boulez’s acceptance of the Academy’s Honorary Doctorate strengthens the Academy’s strategic alliance with France, and Le French May Festival.