Masterpiece of experimental music unfolds at the Gashouder


Pierre Boulez, Ensemble intercontemporain, Matthias Pintscher

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Pierre Boulez' groundbreaking work Répons (1981-1984) is the first composition in which the grand maitre of the musical experiment combined the performers' traditional instrumentation with real-time manipulated sound. Because of the spiralling character of the score and the spatial grouping of ensemble, soloists, loudspeakers ánd audience, Amsterdam's Gashouder is the ideal venue in which to fully appreciate the music's exciting interplay between past and present, question and answer. Boulez' faithful collaborators of the Ensemble intercontemporain and the sound wizards of IRCAM, the institute which was founded by Boulez, will play the piece twice, so that the audience can change seats in the break and re-experience the music from a different perspective the second time. It's a unique opportunity to get acquainted with every aspect of this iconic work.



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Please note: there is another performance with music by Pierre Boulez, which might be interesting for you: Beyond the Score.


After previous musical portraits of Varèse, Xenakis, Cage and Nono, in this 68th edition of the Holland Festival the spotlights are on French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez (1925). Boulez’s importance in the postwar music world can hardly be overestimated; the master has had a huge influence on both his contemporaries and the generations of composers who have come after him. One of the key compositions by Boulez that the Holland Festival is presenting is Répons (1981-1984).

Répons, which couples traditional instrumentation with sounds generated and transformed by computer, is being performed two times in a single concert at the Holland Festival by the ideal interpreters: Ensemble intercontemporain, the group that Boulez formed in 1976, conducted by Matthias Pintscher. The six soloists are taken from the ensemble’s own ranks: two pianists, a harpist, two percussionists and a cimbalom player. The Ensemble intercontemporain also performed the premiere of the first version of this work on 18 October 1981, during the Donaueschinger Musiktage. In Amsterdam, technique and live electronics are provided by the IRCAM (Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique) from Paris, an institute that Boulez directed from its founding in 1970 until 2002. The IRCAM has also been involved with Répons since its first performance.

Boulez composed Répons in 1981 and kept polishing the work for several years after that. Version 1 was 17 minutes long, version 2 was 35 minutes (first performed in London on 6 September 1982) and version 3, which so far is the last, takes about three quarters of an hour to present (first performed in Turin on 22 September 1984). Boulez always writes his compositions as works in progress – his love of experimentation calls for a flowing and changing whole, not something that is finished. Répons, which consists of an introduction, eight sections and a coda, is the first major composition in which Boulez demonstrates the possibilities of digital sound manipulation – specifically, the transformation of live sound – afforded by IRCAM. The composer had always wanted to look further than the sound that the average classical instrumentation can produce. He did research at Pierre Schaeffer’s Studio de Musique Concrète and the Siemens Studio in Munich, and ultimately founded and headed up IRCAM.

Boulez sees Répons as a spiralling trajectory that is performed in several stages. He compares it to the Guggenheim Museum in New York, which has a gently sloping, spiral-shaped interior. Says Boulez, ‘As visitors wander through the exhibition, they can invariably see what they are to see at close quarters the very next moment, as well as what they have just seen and which is already some distance away. I was much struck by the way in which past and present interact and exactly the same conditions are magnified or transformed as the visitor passes to a lower or higher level. To use a musical term, Répons is a set of variations in which the material is arranged in such a way that it revolves around itself.’ 

The title Répons refers to the Gregorian tradition in which a solo vocalist and a choir alternate with and respond to each other. Boulez also uses this technique, calling ‘répons’ a ‘container’ concept because it introduces various layers: we hear dialogues between the soloists and the ensemble, between the ensemble players themselves, between acoustic and electronic sounds, and between passages that are digitally transformed and those that are not. The sound travels through the space and is flung in all directions. Boulez plays a game with sounds: far away at times, close by at others; agitated rhythms; the piano suddenly demanding lots of attention; the sections flowing into one another yet immediately changing the atmosphere. The opening section, played by the ensemble, introduces the soloists, whose sound is transformed from the very beginning. This effect gives the whole a surrealistic touch. Referring to Répons, Boulez stated that he liked virtuosity, ‘not for the sake of virtuosity, but because it is dangerous’. According to him, music, to be worth anything, can’t stick to safe ground but must entail some risk and effort. The ensemble players, the soloists and the sound engineer continually have to be on their toes and react to one another. The work contains an homage to Paul Sacher; the letters of his name form the basis of the harmonic material.

The instructions for performing this energetic piece make the Gashouder the perfect venue for experiencing the spatial character of the composition in the best possible manner. The audience sits around the ensemble of musicians, whose playing is not amplified or transformed. Set around the audience are various stages for the six soloists. Between the soloists are six loudspeakers. Their contribution is transformed in different ways, for instance by adding artificial sounds and continually changing the place from where the sound is coming through the network of loudspeakers. In the interval, before the second half of the composition begins, the audience can choose different seats.

Repons - Pierre Boulez (2) half breed Repons in Parijs (2) 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 nineteenth-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).

Matthias Pintscher (1971) is a French composer and conductor living in New York. From September 2013, he is the artistic director of Ensemble intercontemporain, a chamber orchestra founded by Pierre Boulez for music from the 20th and 21st century. He frequently works with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra as ‘Artist-in-Association’ and he is Artist in residence at the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Kölner Philharmonie. In the current season 2014-2015 he made his debut at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, the Ottawa National Arts Centre Orchestra and the Chor und Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. Pintscher considers composing and conducting to be two perfectly complementary trades, because the combination gives him as a composer a good idea of all the possibilities of an orchestra as well as giving him a good insider’s perspective from the composer’s side when he’s conducting. His compositions are known for their precision and sophistication in sound and structure. Among his most well known compositions are his first opera Thomas Chatterton, that he wrote for the Semperoper Dresden, Fünf Orchesterstücke for the London Philharmonia Orchestra, the Herodiade Fragmente for the Berliner Philharmoniker and his first violin concerto en sourdine, also for the Berliner Philharmoniker. Pintscher is a prolific composer and his most recent work had its world premiere in October 2014 by the Cleveland Orchestra and Franz Welser-Möst. Earlier works of Pintscher were conducted by internationally renowned conductors such as Simon Rattle, Pierre Boulez, Claudio Abbado, Valery Gergiev and Christoph von Dohnányi. He worked with numerous leading contemporary music ensembles including the German Ensemble Modern, Klangforum Wien, Ensemble contrechamps, Avanti from Helsinki, the Polish ensemble remix and the Scharoun Ensemble. As a conductor Pintscher has a great love for both contemporary composers as well as the late 19th and early 20th century repertoire of composers such as Anton Bruckner, Ludwig von Beethoven, Hector Berlioz and Maurice Ravel. He conducted the Staatskapelle Berlin, the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, the MDR Sinfonieorchester Leipzig, the Tonhalle Orchester Zürich, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and the orchestra of the Opéra national de Paris, among many others. Pintscher is professor in composition at the Juilliard School in New York and artistic director of the Heidelberg Frühling festival and curates for the Impuls Romantik Festival in Frankfurt.

The Ensemble intercontemporain was formed in 1976 by Pierre Boulez with the support of Michel Guy (who was Minister of Culture at the time) and with the collaboration of Nicholas Snowman. Sharing a passion for 20th and 21st century music, the ensemble's 31 soloists are employed on permanent contract, enabling them to fulfill the major aims of the ensemble: performance, creation and education for young musicians and the general public. Under the artistic direction of Matthias Pintscher the musicians work in close collaboration with composers, exploring instrumental techniques and developing projects which interweave music, dance, theater, film, video and visual arts. In collaboration with IRCAM (Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique), the Ensemble intercontemporain is also active in the field of synthetic sound generation. New pieces are commissioned and performed on a regular basis. The Ensemble is renowned for its strong emphasis on music education, giving concerts for children, creative workshops for students, training programs for future performers, conductors, composers, etc. Since 2004, for several weeks every summer, the Ensemble soloists have tutored talented young instrumentalists, conductors and composers in the field of contemporary repertoire at the Lucerne Festival Academy, an educational project organised by the Lucerne Festival. Based at the new Philharmonie de Paris since 2015, the ensemble performs and records in France as well as abroad, taking part in major festivals worldwide. The Ensemble is financed by the Ministry of Culture and Communication of France and receives additional support from the Paris City Council.

IRCAM, the Institute for Research and Coordination in Acoustics/Music, is one of the world’s largest public research centers dedicated to both musical expression and scientific research. A unique location where artistic sensibilities collide with scientific and technological innovation, bringing together over 160 people. Frank Madlener has directed the institute since 2006. IRCAM's three principal activities — creation, research, transmission — are visible in IRCAM's Parisian concert season, in productions throughout France and abroad, and in a new rendezvous created in June 2012, ManiFeste, that combines an international festival with a multidisciplinary academy. Founded by Pierre Boulez, IRCAM is associated with the Centre Pompidou, under the tutelage of the French Ministry of Culture and Communication. The mixed STMS research lab (Sciences and Technologies for Music and Sound), housed by IRCAM, also benefits from the support of the CNRS and the University Pierre and Marie Curie, as well as Inria (team-project MuTant). IRCAM has been involved in various productions in the Holland Festival: it provided the sound design for Jonathan Harvey’s Wagner Dream (2007) and also collaborated on the realization of Luca Francesconi’s opera Quartett (2013).


Percussionist Samuel Favre (1979) studied at the Conservatoire National de Région de Lyon under the tuition of Alain Londeix, and at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Lyon in the classes of Georges Van Gucht and Jean Geoffroy. During his studies he followed workshops and extra lessons at the Académie du Festival d'Aix and the Centre Acanthes. After his studies Favre worked with percussionist Camille Rocailleux, joining his ensemble ARCOSM to create and perform Echoa, a combination of music and dance, which has since been performed almost 400 times in France and abroad. As a member of the Ensemble intercontemporain since 2001, Samuel Favre has recorded a number of pieces, including Le Marteau sans maître by Pierre Boulez and the Double Concerto for piano, percussion and ensemble by Unsuk Chin.

Percussionist Gilles Durot studied with Jean-Daniel Lecoq and Michel Cerutti, amongst others, and quickly went on to play with the major Parisian orchestras, including the Orchestre national de France and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France. He worked with conductors like Pierre Boulez, Lorin Maazel and Kurt Masur. Since 2005 he is a soloist in the Ensemble Multilatérale and he joined the Ensemble intercontemporain in 2007. With percussionist Bachar Khalifé and accordeonist Anthony Millet he founded the Trio K/D/M and he plays in a duo with flutist Mihi Kim. He also works on a regular basis with artists from genres like rock and jazz, including singer Johnny Hallyday, rapper Kery James and tango guitarist Tomás Gubitsch. Durot was awarded an encouragement prize by the Fondation Simone et Cino del Duca, a charity organisation that is connected to the Académie des Beaux-Arts. Since 2013 he is percussion teacher at the Pôle d'Enseignement Supérieur de la Musique et de la Danse de Bordeaux Aquitaine.

Japanese pianist Hidéki Nagano (1968) won the first prize at a national student competition at the age of twelve. After studying in Tokyo he continued studying piano with Jean-Claude Pennetier at the Conservatoire de Paris and vocal accompaniment with Anne Grappotte. Hidéki Nagano joined the Ensemble intercontemporain in 1996. He is specialised in performing contemporary music by the composers our time. His soloist recordings include works by George Antheil, Pierre Boulez, Olivier Messiaen and Tristan Murail. In 2008 he performed with the Japanese NHK Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Charles Dutoit. He won prizes at several international competitions, such as the Concours Musical International de Montréal and the Concurs Internacional de Música Maria Canals in Barcelona. In 1998 he received two awards for young talents in Japan and in 1999 he obtained the Prix Samson François at the Orléans Concours International.

Pianist Sébastien Vichard (1979) studied the piano and pianoforte at the Conservatoire de Paris. He joined the Ensemble intercontemporain in 2006. Vichard is deeply committed to the performance of contemporary music and the leading composers of our time. He has given solo performances at venues like the Royal Festival Hall in London, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Kölner Philharmonie and the Suginami Kôkaidô in Tokyo, as well as in the Berliner Festspiele.
His discography includes works by Franz Schubert, Anton Webern, Elliott Carter and Philippe Manoury. His recording of the works for cello and piano by Franz Liszt with cellist Alexis Descharmes won the Diapason d’or in 2007. Vichard teaches piano accompaniment and sight reading at the Conservatoire de Paris.

Harpist Frédérique Cambreling started her musical career in 1977 at the Orchestre national de France, where she played until 1986. Thanks to her diversity of expression and musical eclecticism, a number of composers have written works for her. These include Philippe Boesmans’ Dreamtime for harp, tuba and ensemble, Wolfgang Rihm’s harp concerto Die Stücke des Sängers and Philippe Schoeller’s harp concerto Hélios. She also performed in premières of, or had works written for her by, composers such as Andreas Dohmen, Luis de Pablo, Frédéric Pattar and Gérard Buquet. Since 1993 she is a member of Ensemble intercontemporain. In 2003 she performed Luciano Berio’s Chemins I with the SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg under the baton of Sylvain Cambreling at the Donaueschinger Musiktage. In 2011 she performed the same piece with the het Konzerthaus Orchester Berlin conducted by Lothar Zagrosek. She made numerous CD recordings. She teaches instrumental didactics at the Conservatoire de Paris and plays in Trio Salzedo with flutist Marine Perez and violoncellist Pauline Bartissol.

Cimbalist Luigi Gaggero (1976) studied cimbalom in Budapest and percussion in Genoa and Berlin. He gave concerts all over Europe, in China and New York, with orchestras such as the Berliner Philharmoniker, the NDR Sinfonieorchester in Hamburg, the Orchestra Filarmonica della Scala in Milan and the Dutch Radio Filharmonisch Orkest. He also played with numerous ensembles, like the Scharoun Ensemble, Ensemble Musikfabrik and Ensemble Modern. He worked with conductors such as Pierre Boulez, Reinbert de Leeuw, Kazushi Ono and Simon Rattle. Composers such as Toshio Hosokawa, Luca Francesconi and Franck Christoph Yeznikian wrote works for him. Gaggero is also active as a conductor and founded the vocal ensemble La Dolce Maniera for the performance of both baroque and contemporary music. Gaggero won the Hanns-Eisler-Preis twice for his performances of contemporary music. He is the only cimbalom professor at the conservatory of Strasbourg.


Pierre Boulez
musical direction
Matthias Pintscher
performed by
Ensemble intercontemporain
IRCAM computer music design
Gilbert Nouno, Andrew Gerzso
IRCAM sound engineer
Jérémie Henrot
Ensemble Intercontemporain
Samuel Favre, vibraphone
Gilles Durot, xylophone
Hidéki Nagano, piano
Sébastien Vichard, piano
Frédérique Cambreling, harp
Mihai Trestian, cymbalom

This performance was made possible with support by