Pierre Boulez, R. I. P.

Noted composer and conductor Pierre Boulez has died. He was 90.

I had a couple of opportunities to hear him conduct, once in New York and once in LA. The New York performance was near the end of his tenure with the Philharmonic. I was in town for a convention of the Audio Engineering Society, and a group of us were given comp tickets to hear the performance in the recently retooled Avery Fisher Hall.

I greatly enjoyed the first half of the concert which included an interesting interpretation of a Mozart symphony. I found the second half … odd and a perfect example of why Boulez’s tenure in New York was a bit rocky. The closing piece for brass, winds, and percussion was Et Expecto Resurrectionem Mortuorum written by Olivier Messiaen. (Boulez studied harmony and composition under Messiaen in the ’40s.) It was weird, but I liked it. However, over half the audience walked out on the performance.

He was a brilliant conductor of 20th-century music who was equally at home with Bach and Mozart.

Dave Brubeck, R. I. P.

He was 91. This past weekend was the third anniversary of his passing. While he will be remembered by most people for his jazz recordings in uncommon time signatures (Take Five, Unsquare Dance, etc.), he was also the composer of religious works such as A Light in the Wilderness, an oratorio with texts from the book of Matthew.

Fred Thompson, R. I. P.

Fred Thompson had died of a recurrence of lymphoma. He was 73.

He was quite a character. I remember him from when he was a law school student at Vanderbilt while I was an undergraduate.

He delivered many memorable lines in his varied careers, but the most import was probably, “Mr. Butterfield, are you aware of the installation of any listening devices in the Oval Office of the President?”

Robert Conquest, R. I. P.

Robert Conquest, the historian whose insistent telling of the true story of the Soviet Union helped lead to the West’s stiffened resistance, has died at age 98. Not only was he a formidable historian and polemicist, he was a poet and master of the limerick.

There once was a Bolshie named Lenin
Who did two or three million men in.
That’s a lot to have done in,
But where he did one in,
A Bolshie named Stalin did ten in.