Immersive introduction to the world of Pierre Boulez, designed by Frank Gehry

Beyond the Score®

A Portrait of Pierre Boulez

Pierre Boulez, Asko|Schönberg, Slagwerk Den Haag

You are looking at a performance from our archive

If there’s anything which epitomises Pierre Boulez, it must be his sense of adventure. This year the pioneer of abstraction, experiment and electronics in music will reach the age of ninety, an occasion which we celebrate with this musical and theatrical journey through his eventful life as a musician. The sets for the show have been designed by Pierre Boulez’ close friend, the famous architect Frank Gehry, and created by Beyond the Score® Creative Director Gerard McBurney. Key passages from Boulez’ oeuvre, performed live by Asko|Schönberg and Slagwerk Den Haag, are seamlessly interconnected by narrated excerpts from letters and poems and dynamic, atmospheric projections of archival and new video footage of Boulez. It’s a great opportunity to discover the fascinating world of one of the greatest composers and conductors of our time.



Include excerpts from the following works by Pierre Boulez:

Incises (2001)
Derive II (2009)
une page d’ephemeride (2005)
Anthemes I (1992)
Messagesquisse (1977)
Derive I (1984)
Improvisation sur Mallarme 1 (1957)
Notations V + XI (1945)
...explosante-fixe... (1971)
...explosante-fixe... original (1985)
Domaines (1968)
Improvisation on Mallarme II (1957)
Dialogue de l’ombre double (1984)
Le marteau sans maitre :
parts III + VIII (1955)
Structures livre I (1946)


‘I want to have the surprise and enjoyment of discovery’
– Pierre Boulez

After previous musical portraits of Varèse, Xenakis, Cage and Nono, the Holland Festival is honouring the French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez in this 68th edition. Boulez’s importance in the postwar music world can hardly be overestimated. The master has had a huge influence on both his contemporaries and younger composers. 

One of the productions focusing on Pierre Boulez is Beyond the Score®: A Portrait of Pierre Boulez, performed by Asko|Schönberg, Slagwerk Den Haag and actress Bracha van Doesburg under the direction of Etienne Siebens. The world premiere took place in Chicago on 14 November, performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the company for which Boulez is conductor emeritus. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra initiated this project as part of Beyond the Score®, a multimedia concert series that the orchestra has been organizing for some ten years now. The projects in this series take a composition and scrutinize it: verbal explanation before the interval, performance of the entire piece after the interval. In Boulez’s case, instead of a single composition, a full evening’s programme comprising a cross-section of his oeuvre was chosen. After the premiere, Los Angeles Splash Magazines wrote, ‘A more fitting tribute to Boulez than this first ever Beyond the Score program of a living artist is difficult to imagine.’

In the highly accessible production Beyond the Score®: A Portrait of Pierre Boulez, video snippets and sound bites alternate with live performances of orchestral excerpts. The architect Frank Gehry, a good friend of Boulez’s, designed and choreographed large white movable panels on which archival footage of the composer–conductor is projected: there’s a conversation between Boulez and Stravinsky, but also recent interviews recorded at Boulez’s home in Baden-Baden. During the performance, extras move the panels, lending the visuals a lively presence. Every now and then, they also walk around the musicians with smart phones; the resulting footage is simultaneously projected on the panels.
Short excerpts from films highlight various aspects of Boulez’s character: his life in Paris during and right after the war, his thoughts on music, his musical universe, and his musical and literary heroes. Visuals alternate with music – sixteen musical excerpts in all. Works like Dérive I and II, Incises, Anthèmea, Improvisation sur Mallarmé, Structure livre I and …explosante-fixe…, pass in review, interspersed with a lot of solo material.

The creative mind behind the Beyond the Score® concerts is Gerard McBurney. Rather than trying to give a full and exhaustive review of Boulez’s life and work, he took an associative approach. As a result, Boulez’s work becomes accessible. There are no stern lectures on serialism, for instance, but we do get to hear an appealing story about ‘new material’. Boulez draws a parallel with architecture, remarking that nowadays we no longer build houses with the materials and techniques that were used in the 18th century. The music of our time also requires new materials so that we can discover new forms. Meanwhile, the harmonic building blocks – intervals, chords, inversions – pass by, with projections of musical notation, and Boulez himself as narrator.

Beyond the Score a Portrait of Pierre Boulez 2 half breed Beyond the Score a Portrait of Pierre Boulez 1 half breed


As a composer, theorist and conductor, Pierre Boulez (b. 1925, Montbrison) is one of the leading figures in the landscape of postwar European music. He started out by studying mathematics in Lyon, but in 1943 left for Paris, where he applied to the Conservatoire against the express wishes of his father. In 1946, he was appointed on the recommendation of Honegger as musical director of the Compagnie Renaud-Barrault, a position which laid the foundation for his later career as a conductor. In his compositions from the latter half of the 1940s, he brought the influences of Messiaen, twelvetone technique and particularly the work of the late Webern to a synthesis. His Structures Ia (1951) for piano were the highpoint and simultaneously the endpoint of the total serialism of the Darmstadt School, which cleared the way for a more inventive approach to the principles of serialism, for example in his early masterpiece Le marteau sans maître (1953-1955). He explicated his views in various publications, such as Penser la musique aujourd’hui (1964) and Relevés d’apprenti (1966), and was a pioneer of the use of electronics in music. A typical characteristic of Boulez’s way of working was that he frequently revised his compositions, often over long periods of time, such as in the case of Pli selon pli. In the early 70s, he was invited by President Georges Pompidou to look into the possibility of a musical research centre, which ultimately led to the establishment of the Institut de Recherche et de Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM) with Boulez as its director. Boulez was musical advisor to the Cleveland Orchestra from 1970 to 1972, chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra from 1971 to 1975, and musical director of the New York Philharmonic from 1971 to 1977. He is conductor emeritus of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and in the last several years has stood in front of the Berliner and Wiener Philharmonikers, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestre de Paris, the Ensemble intercontemporain and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. In 2005, he began working in collaboration with the Staatskapelle Berlin. Boulez is particularly famous for his exemplary interpretations of classics from the 20th-century repertoire, of composers such as Debussy, Mahler, Bartók, Varèse, Schoenberg, Webern, Berg and Stravinsky, but also has frequently conducted new works by contemporary composers as well as the works of 19th-century giants like Beethoven, Schumann, Berlioz and Wagner. From 1976 to 1995, Boulez held the chair ‘Invention, technique et langage en musique’ at the prestigious Collège de France. In 2002, he received the Glenn Gould Award. In 2007, Boulez opened the Holland Festival with his conduction of the opera From the House of the Dead. In that same edition, he also conducted the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, which performed works by Schoenberg, Bartók and Stravinsky. On 17 June 2010 Boulez was awarded the Edison oeuvre-award (in Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ, Amsterdam).

Architect Frank Gehry (born in Toronto, 1929) studied at the University of Southern California and the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Throughout his architectural career spanning some 50 years, Gehry has designed public and private buildings in America, Europe and Asia. A concern for people’s comfort is characteristic of his work. Gehry strives to make buildings that are suited to their cultural context, while staying within the budgets of his clients. An elected member of the American Institute of Architects’ College of Fellows, he has received many national and regional awards, including the Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize in Architecture and the Pritzker Architecture Prize. He furthermore received the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Award for his lifelong contribution to the arts, as well as the Friedrich Kiesler Prize. Frank Gehry has taught at, among other places, Harvard University, the University of Southern California, Columbia University and the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, as well as at Yale University, where he still teaches. Gehry’s feats include the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, the Eight Spruce Street Residential Tower in New York and the Opus Residential Tower in Hong Kong.

Asko|Schönberg, the leading ensemble for new music from Amsterdam, performs music from the 20th and 21st century. Besides performing music by great, established names such as Andriessen, Gubaidulina, Kagel, Kurtág, Ligeti, Rihm and Stockhausen, it also champions younger composers such as Van der Aa, Padding, Widmann and Zuidam, as well as the newest generation of composers. However the founders of 20th-century music are also amply represented: from Weill to Schönberg and from Stravinsky to Messiaen. The ensemble aims at showing the the versatlity of contemporary music by working together with opera, theatre and dance.
This diverse music-making takes place in Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ and the Concertgebouw both in Amsterdam, during guest appearances in the Holland Festival and Dutch National Opera, and in a variety of concert halls throughout the Netherlands and abroad. Asko|Schönberg regularly appears in festivals in Cologne, Kraków, Paris and elsewhere. Recently the ensemble gave performances in London, Paris, Los Angeles, New York and Jakarta (Indonesia).

Younger audiences are also catered for: educative projects for seven-year-olds, composition projects for secondary school students and collaborations with the composition departments of conservatoires. Besides the conductor Reinbert de Leeuw and permanent guest conductor Etienne Siebens, Asko|Schönberg regularly works with guest conductors such as Oliver Knussen, Clark Rundell and Bas Wiegers. Performances involve a single-minded group of versatile musicians and soloists from the Netherlands and abroad. Asko|Schönberg is ensemble in residence of Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ.

Slagwerk Den Haag (SDH) is – since its inception in 1977 – fascinated by everything concerned with sound, pulse and materials that produce sound. The artists are highly versatile creators and co-creators that aim to amaze and enrich time after time, in every setting imaginable. Both on the traditional arsenal of instruments, as well as on porcelain, equine jaws, glass or 3D-printed instruments. SDH projects reflect the very latest developments, because everything within the power of the members is done to help in the quest for the undiscovered. SDH works alongside trendsetting artists and makers, such as composers Steve Reich, Michael Gordon and Yannis Kyriakides, pianist Ralph van Raat, dance company Club Guy & Roni and illustrator Wouter van Reek. Leading partners, including other disciplines, are among others Orkater, Asko|Schönberg, Veenfabriek and Kytopia. The playing field is extensive; from Bang on a Can in New York to Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ in Amsterdam, from the Holland Festival to the slums of Cairo and from classroom to the beach at the Dutch Oerol Festival. On a regularly basis SDH goes on tour which brought the company to venues in Europe, the United States of America, the Middle East, Japan and recently Indonesia. Apart from concerts SDH’s program includes dance performances, education, (family)music theatre, special events and talent development. The New York Times described SDH as ‘…dazzling percussion group, similarly combined virtuosity and theatricality…’.


Pierre Boulez
Frank Gehry
Etienne Siebens
performed by
Slagwerk Den Haag
Marieke de Kleine
a production by
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
creative director
Gerard McBurney
executive producer
Martha Gilmer
Nikola Meeuwsen
Carina Vinke
Keren Motseri

This performance was made possible with support by