Frédéric Durieux, composer

Frederic Durieux Headshot

The composer Frédéric Durieux was born in Paris in 1959 and studied at the Paris Conservatory, where he won the first prize in composition under Ivo Malec, as well as the first prize in analysis which he studied with Betsy Jolas, before rounding off his musical education with a course in music and computers at Ircam. From 1987 to 1989 he was a resident in the Medici Villa in Rome, home of the Académie Française. Frédéric Durieux has received numerous commissions, starting in 1983, and his works are played abroad as much as in France. His works include over twenty works for soloists, ensembles and orchestras with or without electronics. Several recordings of his works are currently available including a CD dedicated to his music performed by the Ensemble InterContemporain, Sharon Cooper and André Trouttet, directed by David Robertson (Adès/MFA - Universal), and he is also the subject of a book (Frédéric Durieux, les Cahiers de l'Ircam #7). In 1990 Frédéric Durieux began teaching analysis at Paris Conservatory, until he was appointed composition teacher there in 2001. That same year he was also made an officer of the order of Arts et Lettres.

Frédéric Durieux's Theater of Shadows premiered on May 20, 2022 with the Grossman Ensemble.

Program notes:


Upon learning last summer of the death of Christian Boltanski (1944–2021), an artist of the highest rank, I thought of composing a score that would serve as a tribute to him. Having followed his work quite closely for more than three decades, I consider it among the most impressive art of the past half-century. The news of his death reached me as I was starting to compose the score commissioned by the Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition, and I therefore turned to Boltanski and sought a work of his that could give a particular impetus to my piece.

I thought almost immediately of the installation Théâtre d’ombres (1984–97), which has been displayed in several versions and which I was able to see in two different venues. Very oneiric, almost childlike, this installation is nonetheless profound in its evocations of different Hebraic traditions as well as Plato’s cave, prehistoric rock-painting and Asian puppet theater. This installation makes connections among different mythologies found in European, Latin-American, Asian, and African cultures.

When I began work, the very beginning of Boltanski’s installation circulated in my mind, the moment when different shadow figures are projected onto the walls surrounding the audience and are set into motion by heat emerging from lamps. These opening movements evoked in me thoughts of shamans conjuring up the spirit or memory of those who have left us. I also bore in mind that Christian Boltanski’s works always have a more or less direct link with the Shoah, a topic of obsession for the artist whose family had been profoundly marked by anti-Semitism in France during World War II.

My score begins with hazy sonorities that gradually develop into first rhythms, then complex harmonic situations before, at last, melodies that seem almost Middle Eastern in origin break free. A kind of danse macabre slowly gets going before freezing in place and returning to the murky situation of the opening.

I would like to thank very sincerely Mr. & Mrs. Grossman for their patronage, Prof. Augusta Read Thomas for initiating the project and James Baker and all the musicians and staff of the Grossman Ensemble for their work in bringing this piece to life.

Frédéric Durieux's "Theater of Shadows"