Pierre Boulez, one last time


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The Kyoto Prize is given each year in advanced technology, basic sciences and, as a single category, arts and philosophy. The money is good (50 million yen, which is around $540,000) and some think of it as a kind of Japanese Nobel. Last year, the French composer and conductor, Pierre Boulez, took home the gold (the medal is 20 karats) in the last category. Given his importance in helping further the new technology in music, he may have deserved in the first as well.

There happens to be a Southern California component to the prize, a San Diego Kyoto Prize Symposium with the honorees. For the arts and philosophy event at the University of San Diego the afternoon of April 22, which is free and open to public, Boulez will discuss and conduct one of his late masterpieces, “Sur Incises,” with the same trio of harpists, pianists and percussionists he employed at the Ojai Festival in 2003.


This is your chance to say goodbye to one of the greats. Unfortunately, the West Coast probably will not again see Boulez, who celebrated his 85th birthday Friday. In an interview I held with him recently in New York, Boulez said that he will be cutting back his conducting to allow himself more time to compose.

But that hardly means he is going to disappear from the international or even the U.S. scene. He remains remarkably vital. He will be the featured composer of the Berlin Festival in the fall. He will also continue to make guest appearances with the Chicago Symphony and Cleveland Orchestra, ensembles with which he has a long history. And he continues to record with both of those orchestras.
In fact, Chicago has just released an altogether winning live recording, on its own CSO-Resound label, of Boulez leading a Stravinsky program – the complete “Pulcinella,” Symphony in Three Movements and Four Etudes for Orchestra. The Chicagoans sparkle. Stravinskyan insights are discovered in every bar.

In conversation, too, Boulez remains ever forward-thinking as well as the master of the smart barb. Here is my interview in Sunday’s Arts & Books section. See Boulez through the years in the photo gallery above.

-- Mark Swed

Pierre Boulez conducts ‘Sur Incises,’ Shiley Theatre, University of San Diego, April 22, 3:30 p.m., free. For registration: 619-260-4231 or