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Pierre-Laurent Aimard Returns to U.S. for Beethoven with Concertgebouw Orchestra at Carnegie Hall and Kennedy Center, Ligeti with SF Symphony, Goldbergs at Disney Hall, and Duo Recital Tour with Tamara Stefanovich
Source: 21c
01/10/2018

Over the coming season, Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s U.S. engagements span two and a half centuries of music, showcasing his artistry as a recitalist, duo partner, and orchestral soloist. First, he embarks on a fall tour of modern four-hands piano masterpieces with his regular recital partner, Tamara Stefanovich. Kicking off at New York’s Carnegie Halland taking them to Chicago, Chapel Hill, and Berkeley, the tour features the U.S. premiere of Keyboard Engine, a new work written for the duo by Sir Harrison Birtwistle (Oct 25-Nov 1). Next, highlighting a year-long artistic residency with Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Aimard appears as soloist in Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto at concerts in Naples, FL, at Washington’s Kennedy Center, and back at Carnegie Hall (Feb 10-15). Finally, the Grammy Award-winning French pianist returns to the States next spring for two Californian appearances, joining the San Francisco Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas for Ligeti’s Concerto (May 9–11), before giving a complete account of Bach’s Goldberg Variations at LA’s Disney Hall (May 12).
 
Further afield, Aimard serves as Artist-in-Residence at the Vienna Konzerthaus and as Portrait Artist at Brussels’ Palais des Beaux Arts, besides continuing his three-year residency at London’s Southbank Centre with a full weekend dedicated to the music of Stockhausen. His busy recital schedule takes him to musical hotspots including Hamburg, Munich, Brussels, Paris, Lyon, Porto, Turin, Oxford, and Moscow while, in addition to the Concertgebouw Orchestra, he makes solo appearances with such leading international ensembles as the London Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Czech Philharmonic, National Philharmonic of Russia, Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra, and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, which – with a program of Mozart and Carter – he leads from the keyboard on tour.

Birtwistle U.S. premiere and more with Tamara Stefanovich

The late Olivier Messiaen is one of several 20th-century masters with whom the French pianist enjoyed especially close personal and professional ties. A former student of Messiaen’s wife and muse, Yvonne Loriod, Aimard has championed his compatriot’s music throughout his career, proving himself “one of the composer’s supreme interpreters” (New Yorker). When Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich gave a four-hands performance of Messiaen’s Visions de l’Amen in London last year, The Guardian awarded them a five-star review and concluded that “it was quite simply impossible to imagine it better done.”
 
Messiaen’s suite is on the program again when the duo tours the States this fall, alongside the U.S. premiere of Keyboard Engine (2017-18) by Sir Harrison Birtwistle(b. 1934). Another of the contemporary composers that Aimard has most consistently championed, Birtwistle says of the pianist: “He realizes the dreams of the composer – certainly, this composer.” Styled a “construction for two pianos,” Birtwistle’s new piece was written for Aimard and Stefanovich, who gave its first performance this past summer at England’s Aldeburgh Festival, where the French pianist concluded his eight-year tenure as Artistic Director in 2016.
 
For their upcoming appearances at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall (Oct 25), Chicago’s Symphony Center (Oct 28), the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Oct 30), and in Berkeley’s Cal Performances series (Nov 1), Aimard and Stefanovich complete their program with Ravel’s Sites auriculaires and Bartók’s Seven Pieces from Mikrokosmos. It was in the Hungarian composer’s music that the duo scored a Grammy nomination – Aimard’s seventh – with their recording of his Concerto for Two Pianos and Percussion.
 
In Europe, the same four-hands program takes Aimard and Stefanovich to Cologne (Oct 4) and a similar one to Luxembourg (Jan 11), where – as at the Tenth International Pharos Contemporary Music Festival in Nicosia, Cyprus (Oct 14) – they also feature Frames (2017), which was written for them by Cypriot composer Vassos Nicolaou(b.1971).

Residencies with Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and at London’s Southbank Centre

Although best known as a key figure in the music of our time, Aimard is also a leading interpreter of more traditional piano repertoire. He enjoys a long association with the Dutch Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, as illustrated by the enduring success of their benchmark 2004 recording of Dvořák’s concerto under Nikolaus Harnoncourt, who also partnered the pianist on his live Beethoven cycle a year earlier, when his performance impressed BBC Music magazine with its “intelligence, a sense of theatrical drama, and real curiosity.” Gramophone agreed:
“The freshness of this set is remarkable. … I warm to it not only for the boldness of its answers but for finding so many of the right questions to ask. … I need to single out the finale of the Emperor, which tingles with a continuously vital, constantly modulated dynamic life that it too rarely receives.”
Now Aimard reprises the monumental “Emperor” Concerto for concerts with the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam (Jan 30 & 31) and, under the baton of Daniel Harding, on tour in Naples, FL (Feb 10), at the Kennedy Center (Feb 13), and in Carnegie’s Stern Auditorium (Feb 15).
 
The U.S. tour crowns the pianist’s season-long tenure as the orchestra’s 2018-19 Artist-in-Residence. Revealing the many facets of his artistry, this also sees him play Dvořák under Harding (Dec 6-8); couple Messiaen’s Oiseaux exotiques with the Dutch premiere of Birtwistle’s Responses under Vladmir Jurowski (June 14); and join members of the orchestra for a pair of chamber programs (Dec 9; June 15).
 
Aimard holds several additional European residential posts, including one at London’s Southbank Centre, where he is now entering the second phase of his three-year tenure as Artist-in-Residence. After joining the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Karina Canellakis for a reprise of the Dvořák concerto (Oct 10), he concludes the residency with a weekend devoted to Karlheinz Stockhausen. Another of the modernist masters with whom Aimard worked closely during his lifetime, the German composer would have celebrated his 90th birthday this year. To celebrate this milestone, the pianist performs his Klavierstücke I-XI, takes part in his seminal Kontakte for piano, percussion, and electronics, and joins Stefanovich and sound designer Marco Stroppa for accounts of his monumental rarity Mantra (June 1 & 2).
 
Aimard recently anchored similar retrospectives dedicated to the composer at this month’s Lucerne Festival and Musikfest Berlin, where his account of the Klavierstückewas hailed as “the performance of a lifetime.” Seen and Heard International continued:
“I have no doubt that memories of hearing Pierre-Laurent Aimard play the first eleven Stockhausen Klavierstücke will remain with me forever: like hearing Maurizio Pollini in Chopin or Daniel Barenboim in Beethoven. Not so much a performance of the year as of a lifetime, this recital proved just as all-encompassing and arguably still more necessary.”

Bach’s Goldberg Variations and other solo recitals

Like Beethoven, J.S. Bach is another of the great composers of the common practice period in whose music Aimard has decisively made his mark. In 2008, his recording of TheArt of Fugue was a phenomenal critical and commercial success that topped both the Billboard and iTunes classical charts, prompting The Times of London to wonder: “So, another Everest conquered by Pierre-Laurent Aimard. What’s the next one going to be?” Drawing on intensive study of the work during a season-long sabbatical at Berlin’s Institute for Advanced Study, he then tackled Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, of which his Deutsche Grammophon recording of Book I was heralded as “a new benchmark” (NDR Radio, Germany). Now the pianist turns his focus to another Bach masterpiece that is, like the Well-Tempered Clavier, a pinnacle not only of the keyboard literature, but of all Western culture: the transcendent Goldberg Variations.
 
These take Aimard not only to LA’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, where he is presented by the Los Angeles Philharmonic (May 12), but to recitals throughout Europe, in Oxford, Munich, Paris, Lyon, Brussels, and during his residency in Vienna. Like his upcoming appearance in Hanover, this also sees him perform Messiaen’s complete Catalogue d’oiseaux, which he recorded last season to inaugurate his exclusive new contract with the Pentatone label, and of which his account was just hailed as “the high point” (Frankfurter Rundschau) of Frankfurt’s Musikfest Atmosphères. Besides reprising excerpts from the Catalogue in Vienna and Moscow, Aimard also gives solo appearances in Linz, Austria; at Arnstadt’s Thüringer Bachwochen; at Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie; and in Cologne, where his program features the world premiere performance of Centrifugal byVassos Nicolaou.

Ligeti with the San Francisco Symphony and more

For his final U.S. appearances of the season, Aimard joins the San Francisco Symphonyunder the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas for György Ligeti’s Piano Concerto (May 9-11). He and Ligeti shared an intimate working relationship until the Hungarian composer’s death twelve years ago, Aimard having premiered and made first recordings of a number of Ligeti’s piano compositions, winning a 1997 Gramophone Award for his Sony Masterworks album of the Études, and inspiring some of the composer’s most complex writing. As a result, he remains without peer as an exponent of Ligeti’s works, the composer himself pronouncing him “today’s leading interpreter of contemporary piano music.” Click here to see the Ligeti Project, the free, multilingual site Aimard launched two years ago under the auspices of the Ruhr Piano Festival’s Explore the Score; as The Guardian writes, this ambitious pedagogical undertaking offers “astonishingly multi-dimensional insight” into Ligeti’s music, “and it’s something no admirer should miss.”
 
The San Francisco engagement follows Aimard’s accounts of Ligeti’s concerto in Portoand with Heinz Holliger leading the RAI National Symphony Orchestra in Turin and at Milan’s La Scala. He also plays selected Études by the same composer in Porto, at Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie, and during his residency at the Vienna Konzerthaus.
 
The versatile pianist plays three Mozart concertos this season, with especial focus on Nos. 25 in C and 15 in B-flat, as heard on his acclaimed 2005 recording with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. He reunites with the orchestra to lead both concertos from the keyboard and take part in chamber works by Elliott Carter at concerts in Cologne, Berlin, and Paris, before revisiting the two concertos with the orchestra under David Afkham’s leadership at the Klarafestival in Brussels and Antwerp. He also reprises Mozart’s Concerto No. 15 with Zurich’s Tonhalle-Orchester under Donald Runnicles and with the Munich Chamber Orchestra and Clemens Schuldt at Mozartfest Würzburg, where he pairs it with the Classical master’s Concerto No. 17 in G.
 
Aimard’s other European orchestral collaborations include accounts of Bartók’s First Concerto with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and Jonathan Nott; Bartók’s Third with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and François-Xavier Roth; and a coupling of the latter with Dvořák’s concerto with the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Russiaunder Mikhail Gerts.
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