Pierre Louis Joseph Boulez CBE (French: [pjɛʁ lwi ʒozεf bulɛz]; 26 March 1925 – 5 January 2016) was a French composer, conductor, writer and founder of several musical institutions. He was one of the dominant figures of the post-war classical music world.
Born in Montbrison in the Loire department of France, the son of an engineer, Boulez studied at the Conservatoire de Paris 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 avant-garde music, 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 earlier compositions meant that his body of completed works was relatively small, but it included pieces regarded by many as landmarks of twentieth-century music, such as Le Marteau sans maître, Pli selon pli and Répons. His uncompromising commitment to modernism and the trenchant, polemical tone in which he expressed his views on music led some to criticise him as a dogmatist.
In parallel with his activities as a composer, Boulez became one of the most prominent conductors of his generation. In a career lasting more than sixty years, he held the positions of chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and music director of the New York Philharmonic, 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 many of the world's other great orchestras, including the Vienna Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic and the London Symphony Orchestra. He was particularly known for his performances of the music of the first half of the twentieth century—including Debussy and Ravel, Stravinsky and Bartók, and the Second Viennese School—as well as that of his contemporaries, such as Ligeti, Berio and Carter. His work in the opera house included the Jahrhundertring—the production of Wagner's Ring cycle for the centenary of the Bayreuth Festival—and the world premiere of the three-act version of Alban Berg's Lulu. His recorded legacy is extensive.
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.