As part of its 10th anniversary season, Dempster Street Pro Musica will present a free concert, “Making Music Modern,” at 2 p.m. on May 20 at S.P.A.C.E., 1245 Chicago Ave. The concert is dedicated to the memory of Pierre Boulez (1925-2016), who was an interpreter of 20th-century music and an important figure in the musical life of Chicago for many years.
Mr. Boulez was the last survivor of the generation of composers who defined the western European avant-garde in the years after the Second World War. In his early 20s, he was considered a radical composer and an angry and rebellious young man with outspoken views who wanted to chart a new direction for the music of the future. Some historians felt it was his intention to rewrite the history of 20th-century music to justify his own innovations.
Through his activities as a conductor and musical educator, he influenced music life on both sides of the Atlantic, perhaps more significantly than any other musician of the last century. He used his position as one of the most in-demand conductors in the world to bring attention to 20th-century music that had previously been rarely found in concert halls.
Mr. Boulez first appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1969, subsequently returning to the CSO in 1987 and then beginning his annual residencies with the orchestra in 1991. He was also CSO principal guest conductor. Famous as a revolutionary composer, he was said to be one of the most prominent and insightful conductors of his generation in a career lasting more than 60 years.
He wrote “What I want to do is to change people’s attitude. They have inherited their tastes from the past and look only to the past – to museums, as it were – for their music, while all the time there is live, living music in the world around them. My aim is to promote in every field the ideas of today. We cannot spend our whole lives in the shadow of the huge tree of the past. People nowadays have developed a kind of defense mechanism and are more interested in preserving than creating, like the Romans in the third and fourth centuries. No generation that fails to question the achievements of the past has a hope of achieving its own potential or exploiting its vital energies to the full.”
Growing up in Europe after the First World War and during the Second World War, Mr. Boulez knew some of the era’s composers personally, so he perhaps understood what those composers had experienced first-hand.
The May 20 program will include compositions by Arnold Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky, Mr. Boulez and others. Claude Debussy’s: Prélude à L’Après-midi d’un Faune (“Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun”) was the orchestral work that Mr. Boulez described as “the beginning of modern music.” The concert is free, but reservations are required: dempstermusica.org or 847-905-0875.