When Pierre Boulez died in January, the final page turned on a man of fierce independence. “Civil” and “warm” were words used latterly to describe this grandfatherly figurehead of the avant-garde movement, but could hardly have applied to his earlier tigrine self. Questioned by one Telegraph interviewer about whether he was a bully, Boulez gleefully affirmed, asserting his duty to fight against the establishment, and indeed society. If Boulez was a musical maverick, London was one battleground on which he resolutely fought.

Baldur Brönnimann © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Baldur Brönnimann
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

This Late Night Prom was a fitting way to remember the man. Such events draw a lighter scattering of musical night owls, minimising the hall and allowing for meditative concentration. The added post-prime-time setting allows for no-nonsense programming to suit the most steadfast of Boulezians. When he became Director of the BBC Symphony Orchestra for three years in 1971, Boulez made it his mission to hone British musical tastes, with Shostakovich and Britten sidelined (they fell outside Boulez's definition of serious composers) in favour of Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Birtwistle. This programme featured works Boulez introduced to Proms audiences alongside the composer's own pieces.

First up was Bartók's Three Village Scenes whose Proms première came courtesy of Boulez in 1975. Following in the footsteps of Stravinsky's wedding-themed Les noces, it depicts a raucous Slovak knees-up to ripe folk tunes and a garish, braying text. The Ensemble intercontemporain, founded by Boulez in the 1970s, was on bombastic form with sawing strings and piquant wind pirouettes, while the unnamed standout mezzo soloist in the second movement lullaby threw the ice-bucket and momentarily slowed heartbeats. This was on the whole thrillingly rough-and-ready, with the unusually unkempt BBC Singers (who sounded unrehearsed) not less effective as a result.

Jeanne-Marie Conquer performs <i>Anthèmes 2</i> © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Jeanne-Marie Conquer performs Anthèmes 2
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

It is counter-intuitive that Boulez, like Bartók, took inspiration from earlier musical forms. Gregorian chant provides the model for his Anthèmes 2 where the alternation between a solo voice and choir is here rethought as a violinist responding to its own synthesised echo. The work makes use of computer technology based at the IRCAM centre for music research in Paris, founded by Boulez at the behest of Pompidou, and three of the institute's sound producers were on hand here. Violinist Jeanne-Marie Conqueris shone uncompromising prowess in her glassy slides and brittle explosions. Her Paganini-inspired pecks, run through a computer and spat out through surrounding speakers, were delightfully disorientating in the Royal Albert Hall's cavernous hulk.

Yet for such independent-mindedness, Boulez was quick to acknowledge his influences. Elliott Carter was a “a composer who spurns me on” in Boulez's words, and the American's Penthode received its world première by Boulez and the Ensemble intercontemporain at the 1985 Proms series. The work sees brilliant quartets of sound rotate in glacial shifts, and here conductor Baldur Brönnimann resembled Boulez himself, manoeuvring two batonless hands to slice up the sound. After such assured virtuosity, the ensemble outdid even itself in Boulez's Cummings ist der Dichter, an almost literal transcription of EE Cummings' fragmentary poem, which sits shrapnel-like on the page amidst a mangle of punctuation. This fiendish work saw the faultless, clinical BBC Singers standing like lamposts, merging with the orchestra in painterly strokes. Messiaen's assertion that Boulez “totally transformed the sonority of the piano” here found its equivalent. A great tribute to a musical maverick.