French music giant Pierre Boulez dies aged 90

Prolific French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez died aged 90 on Jan 5, 2016.
Prolific French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez died aged 90 on Jan 5, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

PARIS (AFP) - French musical giant Pierre Boulez, a prolific composer and conductor who was a keen proponent of contemporary music, has died aged 90, his family said Wednesday (Jan 6).

"For all those who knew him and who appreciated his creative energy, his artistic rigour, his openness and his generosity, his presence will remain alive and intense," the family said in a statement from the Philharmonie de Paris, which Boulez spearheaded.

The world-renowned composer and virtuoso pianist, who died Tuesday (Jan 5) in Baden-Baden, Germany, had been considered one of the most influential voices in contemporary music since the 1950s.

A frequent guest conductor for great orchestras on both sides of the Atlantic, Boulez famously shunned the baton, always conducting with his hands.

By the end of his life, Boulez was better known and more frequently played overseas. He led the BBC Symphony Orchestra and from 1971-77 was music director of the New York Philharmonic, where he favoured contemporary works over the classics beloved by his acclaimed predecessor Leonard Bernstein.

It was his exasperation with the relative conservatism of the French musical world that prompted Boulez to make his home in Baden-Baden in the early 1960s.

Boulez's compositions were noted for their difficulty, with one of his defining works, "Le Marteau Sans Maitre" ("The Hammer Without a Master"), drawing inspiration from surrealist poetry and lacking any bass line.