Pierre-Laurent Aimard in 2017-18: U.S. recital tour, Messiaen CD & new London residency
Source: 21C Media Group

A brilliant musician and an extraordinary visionary” (Wall Street Journal), this season Grammy Award-winning French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard embarks on projects close to his heart on both sides of the Atlantic. In the States, he tours to Carnegie Hall and six more key venues with a solo recital program built around Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata (March 1–13), and joins the Boston Symphony Orchestra for Bartók’s First Piano Concerto (Jan 11–13). In the UK, he launches a three-year tenure as Artist-in-Residence of London’s Southbank Centre, playing concertos by MessiaenMozart, and Ravel, besides curating a weekend dedicated to the music of Ligeti. Following the success of his recent renditions of Messiaen’s complete Catalogue d’oiseaux at the Aldeburgh, Tanglewood, and Ravinia Festivals, next spring he releases a recording of the work to inaugurate his exclusive new contract with the Pentatone label. Other highlights of his 2017–18 season include performances of Debussy’s Études in GermanyRussia, and Japan to commemorate the centenary of the French composer’s death; recitals in BeijingParisVienna, and at the new Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin; a European tour with the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra; concerto collaborations in MoscowParis, and Berlin; and a special Stockhausen project in Hamburg. Meanwhile, the pianist expands his already extensive string of honors when Ligeti, Murail and Benjamin: Musica Viva Vol 22, featuring his account of Tristan Murail’s concerto Le désenchantement du monde with the Bavarian Radio Symphony under Sir George Benjamin, is recognized as Best Contemporary Recording of 2017 at the 40th Gramophone Awards ceremony this Wednesday (Sep 13).

In the U.S.: returns to the Boston Symphony, Carnegie Hall, and more

For his first U.S. appearances of the season, Aimard joins the Boston Symphony Orchestra and François-Xavier Roth for Bartók’s First Piano Concerto (Jan 11–13). The pianist scored a fifth Grammy nomination for his Deutsche Grammophon recording of the Hungarian composer’s Concerto for Two Pianos and Percussion with Tamara Stefanovich, and the two pianists reprise that concerto on an extensive European tourwith the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra under Vladimir Jurowski (March 26–April 15).
Between his two Bartók engagements, Aimard returns to the States for a seven-city recital tour that takes in San DiegoSan FranciscoSchenectadyChicagoBaltimorePhiladelphia, and New York’s Carnegie Hall (March 1–13). The centerpiece of his program is Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata, widely considered one of the most important works of the composer’s third period and one of the most challenging in the entire solo piano repertoire. Demonstrating his “ingenious knack for juxtaposing old and new works to tease out fascinating resonances” (New York Times), Aimard pairs it with other, comparably pathbreaking works, including Obukhov’s Révélation and selections from Ligeti’s Études. He explains:
“The ‘Hammerklavier’ Sonata was always a Mount Everest that I didn’t dare to climb and I only very recently started to play it. In it, Beethoven pushes the boundaries further than at any other moment in his life. I will try to combine it with pieces by other composers doing the same, for instance Nikolai Obukhov, the Russian avant-gardist who composed music during the First World War with incredibly new harmonies.”
Aimard’s account of the “Hammerklavier” at this summer’s Ruhr Piano Festival, where he coupled it with Ives’s no less formidable “Concord” Sonata, impressed the Westfälische Rundschau as: “an interpretation of a high intellectual level, which nevertheless radiates overwhelming energy. … An evening of superlatives.” Online Musik Magazinconfirmed: “One senses the spiritual conception of the composer.”
It is with a related recital program, one that combines the Beethoven and Obukhov with late Scriabin sonatas and Prokofiev’s Sarcasms, that Aimard gives solo recitals in GermanyAustria, and Hungary this winter (Feb 15–22), including a date at the Vienna Musikverein. The “Hammerklavier” is also the vehicle for four upcoming recitals in Russia and Germany (Oct 4–20), in which he pairs it with Debussy’s Twelve Études. He says:
“I’ve always had a very intense relationship with the Études, which are almost the last piano pieces that Debussy composed. They reflect so much of his final inner state, when he felt deeply the abomination of the First World War and his own approaching death. I think they are very fitting for his death centenary.”

Messiaen’s Catalogue d’oiseaux, live and on new Pentatone release

The late Olivier Messiaen is one of several 20th-century masters with whom Aimard enjoyed especially close personal and professional ties. A former student of Yvonne Loriod, Messiaen’s wife, the pianist has championed his compatriot’s music throughout his career, proving himself “one of the composer’s supreme interpreters” (New Yorker). Last summer, he concluded his seven-year artistic directorship of England’s Aldeburgh Festival with an all-day event devoted to his recital of Catalogue d’oiseaux, Messiaen’s monumental set of 13 piano pieces depicting the birds of Europe. The UK’sTelegraph pronounced this a “triumph,” the New York Times declared it “a landmark statement,” and The Guardian chose it as one of the top ten musical events of the year. Aimard performed similar programs in the States this summer, first as the centerpiece of “Tanglewood Takes Flight: A Celebration of Birds and Music with Mass Audubon,” and then in a dedicated solo recital at Chicago’s Ravinia Festival. As the Chicago Tribune reported, this was “one of the exceptional recitals of the summer.” The review continued:
“[The audience] was one of the quietest and most attentive in this writer’s experience, as if stunned into silence by the level of compositional invention and the surpassing artistry required to convey it. … Aimard’s prodigious technique allows you to hear not the work behind the work of art but its poetry. … Expectations are high for the release of his first complete recording of the Catalogue.”
Those expectations will be fulfilled this spring, when Pentatone releases the pianist’s recording of Messiaen’s epic work as the inaugural title of their exclusive new partnership. Aimard reflects:
“I started to work on Catalogue with Yvonne Loriod and with Messiaen when I was a very young teenager, and waited my entire life to record it, so I’m delighted that with Pentatone this project becomes possible.”
To celebrate the new recording, he also gives live performances of the Catalogue d’oiseaux in a special “Weekend of Birds” at the Philharmonie de Paris (March 18) and at Amsterdam’s Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ (June 2), besides playing the composer’s Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jésus in Tokyo (Dec 6). At Beijing’s National Centre for the Performing Arts, he alternates excerpts from the Catalogue with Chopin Nocturnes, before concluding with an account of the “Hammerklavier” (Nov 30).

First season as Artist-in-Residence at London’s Southbank Centre

Last season, Aimard co-curated and performed in “Salonen/Aimard: Inspirations,” a series exploring modernism at the Royal Festival Hall, the premier performance space in London’s Southbank Centre. The series drew glowing praise, including a five-star review in the UK’s Telegraph that concluded: “In all it was a marvel. If only every orchestral concert were as imaginatively conceived and beautifully executed as this one.” Now the pianist returns to the Southbank Centre to launch a prestigious three-year tenure as Artist-in-Residence. To inaugurate the partnership, he turns to another of Messiaen’s works celebrating birdsong, joining the Aurora Orchestra under Nicholas Collon for Oiseaux exotiques at the Royal Festival Hall (Sep 24). To continue the residency, he returns to the hall with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and Richard Tognetti (Nov 3) as the first stop on a European tour that takes the same forces to Helsinki (Nov 5), Munich (Nov 9), and Vienna (Nov 14 & 15). In all four cities they perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 15 in B-flat, as heard on Aimard’s acclaimed 2005 recording with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.
For his third orchestral collaboration of the residency, Aimard, whose Ravelinterpretations have been called “utterly sublime” (BBC Music), plays the French composer’s Piano Concerto in G with the Philharmonia Orchestra under Pablo Heras-Casado at the Royal Festival Hall (Jan 21). The new season also sees him play the G-major concerto with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra (Nov 23 & 24) and Collegium Musicum Basel (May 4), while Ravel’s Piano Concerto in D for the left handtakes him to the National Orchestra of Belgium (Sep 15 & 17), the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg (Feb 8 & 9), and the NHK Symphony Orchestra Tokyounder the leadership of Charles Dutoit (Dec 2 & 3). Two seasons ago, calling Aimard “the authoritative master” of the left-hand concerto, The Guardian declared: “It was hard to imagine the wrist-wrecking and finger-crunching solo part being better played than this.
To conclude the first leg of his Southbank residency, Aimard curates a weekend dedicated to the music of György Ligeti, crowned by his own account of the great modernist’s complete Études at the Queen Elizabeth Hall (May 11–13). He and Ligeti shared an intimate working relationship until the Hungarian composer’s death eleven 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.” He revisits Ligeti’s music again next spring, with a program including Books 1 to 3 of the Études and Musica ricercata at Amsterdam’s Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ (April 5–7). Click here to see the Ligeti Project, the free, multilingual site Aimard launched last year under the auspices of the Ruhr Piano Festival’s Explore the Score; as The Guardianwrites, this ambitious pedagogical undertaking offers “astonishingly multi-dimensional insight” into Ligeti’s music, “and it’s something no admirer should miss.”

Hamburg, Berlin, Prague and more

Testifying to his versatility, Aimard’s remaining chamber and choral programs range from Brahms’s German Requiem for soloists, choir, and piano-four-hands at the Salzburg Festival (May 19) to one of his signature modernist recitals at the new Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin (Oct 26) and a special Stockhausen project with Stefanovich and composer/sound artist Marco Stroppa at the new Elbphilharmonie Hamburg (May 23). Likewise, to round out his season’s orchestral collaborations, Aimard plays Beethoven with both the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Russia (Oct 14) and Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France (Jan 31), Schoenberg with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin (April 22), and a program of Elliott Carter with England’s Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (Jan 28). As the Financial Timesputs it, the French pianist is “a ferociously intelligent musician, and full of sharp insights.”

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