March 16, 2017

This spring, Pierre-Laurent Aimard – the French pianist whose lifetime of service to music was recently recognized with the substantial 2017 Ernst von Siemens Music Prize – makes his first North American appearances of the season in concertos by two of his compatriots. Aimard was nominated for a Grammy in 2001 for his recording of Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphony with the Berlin Philharmonic and conductor Kent Nagano, and next week he and Nagano reunite for another account of the work with the Montreal Symphony (March 21 & 22); as the New York Times notes: “Messiaen has no more persuasive advocate than Mr. Aimard.” Equally celebrated for his “utterly sublime” (BBC Music) interpretations of Ravel, next month Aimard partners Valery Gergiev and the Munich Philharmonic for performances of the composer’s two jazz-inspired piano concertos. The Concerto for the Left Hand in D takes them to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (April 2), while the sparkling, bluesy Piano Concerto in G is the vehicle for Aimard’s sole Carnegie Hall appearance of the season (April 3).

Olivier Messiaen is one of several 20th-century masters with whom Aimard enjoyed especially close personal and professional ties. As a former student of Yvonne Loriod, the French composer’s wife, the pianist has championed his countryman’s music throughout his career, proving himself “one of the composer’s supreme interpreters” (New Yorker). Newly announced as the 2017-18 Artist-in-Residence of London’s Southbank Centre, it was Aimard who served as artistic director of the center’s Messiaen Centenary Festival nine years ago. In the British capital again this past January, his duo performances of Messiaen’s Visions de l’Amen with longtime artistic partner Tamara Stefanovich met with unstinting praise. The Arts Desk found theirs to be an “inspired, authoritative reading, from pianists whose authority in this repertoire is matched by their immediacy, passion, and … engagement with the big issues.” Similarly, in its five-star review, the Guardian declared: “It was quite simply impossible to imagine it better done.” In his monumental Turangalîla Symphony, Messiaen set out to create something “superhuman, overflowing, dazzling and abandoned” in its joy. Since making his American debut at just 20 by performing the work with the Chicago Symphony, Aimard has “become something of a go-to man for the [symphony’s] terrifying piano part” (Financial Times). He scored a 2001 Grammy nomination for his Teldec recording of Turangalîla with the Berlin Philharmonic under Kent Nagano, with whom he reunites this spring at the Montreal Symphony.

Another jewel in the Grammy Award-winning pianist’s distinguished discography is his 2010 album of Ravel’s two piano concertos for Deutsche Grammophon, captured live with Pierre Boulez and the Cleveland Orchestra. Showcasing “Aimard’s unique genius” (Scottish Sunday Express) in “an exemplary pair of readings” (Audiophile Audition), the disc won Les Victoires de la Musique Classique’s 2011 “Record of the Year” award, and is widely recognized as today’s benchmark recording of the works. Like Stravinsky, Weill, Milhaud, and others, Ravel was one of the European composers who took jazz most seriously, and his piano concertos represent something of a tribute to the American form. About the relationship between the two, Aimard explains:

“It’s interesting to compare both concertos, composed like a pair: a positive one, full of light and fun (the G-major concerto), and the other one (the left-hand concerto), dark and oppressive. Both of them incorporate jazz, but one in an entertainment way and the other one in a sarcastic way.”

Click here to see Aimard play the opening of Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand with Boulez and the Berlin Philharmonic.

Following his Carnegie Hall appearance, the French pianist’s next U.S. engagement is in May, when he returns to the Cleveland Orchestra for György Ligeti’s Piano Concerto under Franz Welser-Möst (May 18–20). Ligeti is another of the great modernists with whom Aimard shared an intimate working relationship. It was he who inspired some of the Hungarian composer’s most complex writing, and he 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. As a result, he remains without peer as an exponent of Ligeti’s works, and the composer himself pronounced him “today’s leading interpreter of contemporary piano music.” 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 Guardian writes, this ambitious pedagogical undertaking offers “astonishingly multi-dimensional insight” into Ligeti’s music, from “the composer’s favourite interpreter … and it’s something no admirer should miss.”

High-resolution photos may be downloaded here.

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Pierre-Laurent Aimard: North American spring engagements

March 21 & 22
Montreal, Canada
Montreal Symphony Orchestra / Kent Nagano
MESSIAEN: Turangalîla Symphony

April 2
Newark, NJ
New Jersey Performing Arts Center
Munich Philharmonic / Valery Gergiev
RAVEL: Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D

April 3
New York, NY
Carnegie Hall
Munich Philharmonic / Valery Gergiev
RAVEL: Piano Concerto in G

May 18, 19, & 20
Cleveland, OH
Cleveland Orchestra / Franz Welser-Möst
LIGETI: Piano Concerto

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© 21C Media Group, March 2017