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We checked out the exhibition dedicated to Pierre Boulez in Paris

To mark his 90th birthday, Pierre Boulez is being "exhibited" at Paris' Cité de la Musique from 17th March until 28th June 2015. It's worth a visit for novices, the initiated, fans and detractors alike.

By Harry Chancellor | News | March 24, 2015

More than just a composer or a conductor, Pierre Boulez has become an institution all by himself. A genre? A myth? There are heated arguments from both his lovers and his haters. In 2008, Boulez was invited to the Louvre for a series of concerts, conferences and seminars as well as an exhibition showing playbacks alongside graphic, literary and musical art from the 19th and 20th centuries. This time around, what we have is a Boulezian kaleidoscope. From 17th March until 28th June, the Cité de la Musique, Paris (previously known as Philharmonie 2) is showing a complete journey through the career of the composer, conductor, theorist, teacher and founder of multiple institutions that sees the visitor passes through six decade of musical, art, political and ideological history. With this in mind, whatever your view on Boulez, this journey through time is enhanced by the evocation of the Renaud-Barrault Company, the Domaine Musical and their legendary concerts, all of the artist's contemporaries (Cage, Stockhausen, Berio, Maderna, Nono, Pousseur...) and the beginnings of IRCAM (Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique).

Knowing how Pierre Boulez's influence expanded to touch other art forms, the exhibition also brings together a number of masterpieces from the world of visual art by artists including Paul Cézanne, Paul Klee, Nicolas de Staël, Alberto Giacometti, Francis Bacon, Piet Mondrian and André Masson. What does this have to do with music? It's ever present: particular pieces are played in certain parts of the exhibit, including the 2nd Sonanta, Le Marteau sans maître, Pli selon pli, Rituel and Incises, which are heard in their entirety, and the powerful Répons which sound great in the space - all of which was put together in collaboration with IRCAM.

In terms of audio and video exhibits - and audioguide is a must - the exhibition has a number of impressive documents including comment from Boulez himself. A face-to-face between Stravinsky and Giacometti is particularly memorable; there's also a charming silent recording of the Renaud-Barrault Company touring with Boulez in South America, some fun masterclasses in directing among a number of treasures, which merit that visitors take their time to investigate every part of the exhibition.

The work that exhibition curator Sarah Barbedette has done is truly remarkable. This is not the first time that Barbedette has crossed paths with Boulez, as in 2011, the musician was on the jury when she presented her doctoral thesis, Le concert, on questions of poetry and images (and in which the Domaine Musical was frequently referenced) to the Sorbonne. Barbedette has also worked with him on the conception of a number of concerts, including one with the Orchestre de Paris in 2010. She has also edited a tribute book to the conductor, composed of contributions from other musicians.

Out of the huge archive of documents, Barbedette has managed to sort and distill them into an exhibition which is accessible for novices yet still of interest to those who are already fans of Boulez - as well as his most virulent detractors. Between the two floors of the exhibition, a long corridor offers the chance to read some enlarged press cuttings both praising and opposing the composer in relation to his ideas and his music. Whilst this great exhibition is obviously a eulogy to Boulez, this fun addition is a reminder of his many critics.

Visit the exhibition's site

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