April 30, 1998
Vol. 17, No. 15

current issue
archive / search

    Composer Boulez awarded Rosenberger Medal

    By Shula Neuman
    News Office

    Composer, conductor and teacher Pierre Boulez has received the University's Rosenberger Medal for outstanding achievement in the creative and performing arts. The medal was presented by President Sonnenschein at a dinner on Monday in Boulez's honor.

    Boulez was honored for his unwavering support of 20th-century music, his achievements as a composer and his work as a conductor. He was nominated for the award by the Department of Music. Shulamit Ran, the William H. Colvin Professor in Music and a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, said Boulez "belongs to that very small group of people who can truly be thought of as cultural leaders and trendsetters."

    Boulez first gained fame as a young composer in post-World War II Europe, where he was one of a select group of composers who maintained that nothing less than a complete revamping of past musical language was in order. Boulez's revolutionary changes are evident in his music, Ran said, "through the challenges the music presents to the performer, the innovations in the structuring of compositional parameters, and in the transformation of live sound in space through the use of advanced technology." His international breakthrough as a composer was the 1955 performance of his work Le marteau sans maitre at Baden-Baden, Germany.

    Boulez is also highly regarded for his work as a conductor, and after teaching and conducting in Europe during his early years, he was appointed Principal Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1971. The same year, he succeeded Leonard Bernstein as music director of the New York Philharmonic, a position Boulez held until 1978. Currently he is principal guest conductor with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

    As a conductor, he is a strong advocate of works by 20th-century composers; his enthusiastic promotion of such works is credited with converting classical musical audiences from skeptical listeners into enthusiastic appreciators of contemporary compositions.

    "Boulez's work with the Chicago Symphony provides a striking example of what a conductor, whose vision of a conductor's role encompasses a strong commitment to educating his audience, can accomplish within a few years," Ran said.

    Boulez is also founder and director of the Institut de Recherche et de Coordination Accoustique/Musique (IRCAM), a music research center at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. From IRCAM sprang the creation of a major and permanent instrumental group, the Ensemble InterContemporain, one of the world's finest contemporary music ensembles.

    Ran also emphasized the significance of Boulez's long-term recording projects to create a permanent legacy of 20th-century compositions. Boulez's catalogue of recorded orchestral and operatic masterpieces of the past 100 years is second to none and growing each year, she said, and its impact will become even more profound with the passage of time.

    The Rosenberger Medal was established by Mr. and Mrs. Jesse L. Rosenberger in 1917 to "recognize achievement through research, in authorship, in invention, for discovery, for unusual public service or for anything deemed to be of great benefit to humanity." The medal, first awarded in 1924, was most recently presented to author Toni Morrison and conductor Sir Georg Solti during 1991-92, the University's centennial year. Previous recipients of the award include Frederick Grant Banting, who discovered insulin; and James Henry Breasted, founder of the Oriental Institute.