Conductor Pierre Boulez is a giant in post war classical music. As conductor, composer and organiser he showed himself a fanatic proponent of avant-garde music. Starting with the twelve tone technique of the second Viennese school (Anton Webern and Alban Berg), moving on to serialism in the early Fifties to aleatoric music (music formed by controlled chance) with John Cage. As a young man he was a bully, expressing himself in no uncertain terms and challenging musicians that didn’t subscribe to his opinions.
The resources of the BBC gave him the opportunity to experiment, something that was not always possible in other places. In his prime Boulez conducted all over the world: New York, Chicago, Vienna, London, Berlin and my own city of Amsterdam. He founded musical institutions all over the world, like the Cité de la Musique in Paris.
Stravinksy’s Firebird suite is the 1910 reworking of the music for the ballet of the same name. The ballet is covering a Russian fairy tale about a bird that is captured and grants its captor help in exchange fir its freedom. When the young prince that captured the bird gets in trouble with an evil wizard later in the story, he invokes the help of the bird, who slays the wizard. The ballet was premiered in 1910 by the Parisian Ballet Russe of Dhiagilev, the company that is now famous for the riotous performance of The Rite of Spring in 1912.