The University of Chicago News Office
April 27, 1998 Press Contact: Josh Schonwald
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jschonwa@uchicago.edu
 

Conductor Pierre Boulez awarded University of Chicago's Rosenberger Medal

Composer, conductor, teacher and thinker Pierre Boulez has received the University of Chicago’s Rosenberger Medal for outstanding achievement in the creative and performing arts. The medal will be presented by President Sonnenschein at a dinner on Monday, April 27, 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 Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Shulamit Ran, the William H. Colvin Professor of Composition in the University of Chicago’s Department of Music. Ran 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 determined that nothing less than a complete revamping of past musical language was in order. Boulez’s revolutionary changes are evident in his music through the challenges the music presents to the performer, the innovations in sound parameters and in the ordering of compositions. His international breakthrough as a composer was the 1955 performance of his work Le marteau sans maître 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 Recherches 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 benefit 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 of Chicago’s centennial year. Previous recipients of the award include Frederick Grant Banting, who discovered insulin; and James Henry Breasted, founder of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.

 

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