May 4, 2023

Pierre-Laurent Aimard (photo: Marco Borggreve)

(May 2023) The recipient of a Gramophone Award for his recording of Beethoven’s complete piano concertos, Pierre-Laurent Aimard returns to the States for performances of the composer’s Fourth Piano Concerto with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Eva Ollikainen (May 11–14). Aimard then embarks on a summer of tributes to his late friend and close musical associate György Ligeti, who would have celebrated his 100th birthday this year. Highlights include improvisatory collaborations with jazz pianist Michael Wollny at the Berlin Philharmonie (May 17) and England’s Aldeburgh Festival (June 19) as well as complete traversals of the Hungarian composer’s Études at Germany’s Ruhr Piano Festival (May 31), Aldeburgh (June 19) and the Salzburg Festival (July 30).

Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto with Los Angeles Philharmonic

To complete his Bartók concerto cycle with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the San Francisco Symphony, Aimard recently gave what the San Francisco Chronicle pronounced “a whiz-bang account of the Second Concerto.” The review continued:

It was tremendous. The Second Concerto is perhaps the most exciting and directly rewarding of the three works, a whirlwind of keyboard activity set against firework blasts of orchestral imagination. The writing is unsparing in its demands on the piano soloist – after all, this was Bartók himself at the keyboard – and Aimard dispatched those difficulties like an Olympic athlete. … The full recorded set promises to be a doozy.”

Now Aimard returns to California for another orchestral collaboration, this time undertaking Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto with the LA Philharmonic and Eva Ollikainen, Chief Conductor of the Iceland Symphony, at LA’s Disney Hall (May 11–14). Aimard previously collaborated with the same orchestra on Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto at the Hollywood Bowl, where his “illuminating French clarity and precision” cut “through a forceful orchestra with the skill of a master sushi chef intent on cultivating the subtle flavor of freshness.” As the Los Angeles Times review continued: “In the slow movement, Aimard supplied the twinkle of stars. … He made Beethoven’s bold cadenza sound as up-to-date as Boulez’s.”

For his next orchestral collaboration, Aimard juxtaposes Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto with Schoenberg’s Ode à la Napoleon Buonaparte on a Napoleon-themed program with Germany’s Potsdam Chamber Orchestra (June 3). Over the coming months he also plays Ravel’s G-major Concerto with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France (June 6) and Mozart’s 25th with Switzerland’s Bern Symphony (June 29 & 30), before returning to Bartók with an account of the Hungarian composer’s Third Piano Concerto at Austria’s Grafenegg Festival (Aug 26).

Honoring Ligeti at 100 in Berlin, Salzburg, Aldeburgh and beyond

This year marks the centennial of the birth of György Ligeti, who considered Aimard “today’s leading interpreter of contemporary piano music.” The two shared an intimate working relationship until the Hungarian composer’s death in 2006, and The Guardian hailed Aimard’s online guide to Ligeti’s piano music as “a chance to delve deeply into some of the richest piano music of the late 20th century, in the company of arguably its finest interpreter.”

Over the coming months, Aimard headlines “Ligeti 100” tributes at destinations throughout Europe, before crossing the Atlantic for similar events in America. At the Berlin Philharmonie, he joins jazz pianist Michael Wollny for “Ligeti 100: A Musical Bow in Dialogues.” Presented in the “Jazz at Berlin Philharmonic” series, this imaginative collaboration sees Aimard in dialogue with Wollny’s improvisations, to explore the role of jazz in Ligeti’s music (May 17). The two pianists later reprise the same program in a “Late-Night Ligeti” session that concludes a full “Ligeti Day” at England’s Aldeburgh Festival (June 19; see below).

Ligeti dedicated several of his Études to Aimard, who won a Gramophone Award for his Sony Masterworks recording of the complete set, made under the composer’s artistic direction. This summer, he gives recitals of all 18 Études during residencies at three major European festivals. At the Aldeburgh Festival, where he previously served for eight seasons as Artistic Director, he performs the complete Études on “Ligeti Day” (June 19) before reprising his collaboration with Wollny (see above). At Austria’s Salzburg Festival, Aimard undertakes the complete Études (July 30) two days after giving a similarly comprehensive recital of Beethoven’s complete Bagatelles (July 28). And at Germany’s Ruhr Piano Festival (May 31), with which, as 2003 Ruhr Piano Festival laureate, Aimard enjoys an especially long and close association, he performs the complete Ligeti Études (May 31) before showcasing excerpts from unpublished Ligeti works during a conversation about the composer (June 1).

While in residence at the Ruhr Piano Festival, Aimard also performs Ligeti’s Piano Concerto with conductor Susanne Blumenthal and two ensembles from the Cologne & Essen High School of Music and Dance (May 25). Followed by a second account of the concerto, now featuring Aimard’s student Lorenzo Soulès as soloist (May 30), the collaboration concludes the French pianist’s long teaching career at the prestigious German school. The final week of May also sees Aimard revisit Ligeti’s concerto, on what would have been the composer’s 100th birthday, with the young musicians of the Berlin Philharmonic’s Karajan Academy under Susanna Mälkki (May 28).

The pianist completes his European Ligeti lineup at Tuscany’s Collegium Vocale Crete Senesi, the festival founded and directed by early music specialist Philippe Herreweghe. Here, as in Salzburg, Aimard pairs Ligeti with Beethoven, this time combining the Hungarian composer’s Musica ricercata with selected Beethoven Bagatelles in a single recital (July 26).

This fall, Aimard continues commemorating his late friend in America, at venues including New York’s Lincoln Center, where he showcases Ligeti’s piano music in an “Artist Spotlight” program at David Geffen Hall (Nov 7).

Summer recital in Graz

In recital at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall last month, Aimard featured Chopin’s Polonaise-fantaisie in A-flat, prompting Seen and Heard International to marvel:

“Aimard’s choice of one of Chopin’s most elusive pieces, the Polonaise-Fantaisie, was inspired. As was his performance, easily the most convincing I have ever heard. … There was a superb sense of unfolding, of opening out from a secret space. Clarity, so important and yet often so little valued in Chopin, was paramount for Aimard. … Incredible playing.”

Flanked by the same composer’s Polonaise “héroïque” and Beethoven’s Eroica Variations, the same work takes Aimard to Graz, Austria for a summer recital (July 18).

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Pierre-Laurent Aimard: upcoming dates

May 11, 13 & 14
Los Angeles, CA
Walt Disney Concert Hall
LA Philharmonic / Eva Ollikainen
BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 4

May 17
Berlin, Germany
Berlin Philharmonie
“Jazz at Berlin Philharmonic” series
With Michael Wollny, piano
Ligeti 100 – “A Musical Bow in Dialogues”

May 25
Cologne, Germany
Ruhr Piano Festival (Klavier-Festival Ruhr)
Cologne & Essen High School of Music and Dance (Hochschule für Musik und Tanz Köln)
Ensemble ColLAB Cologne & Ensemble Folkwang Modern / Susanne Blumenthal
LIGETI: Concerto for piano and orchestra

May 28
Berlin, Germany
Karajan Academy of the Berlin Philharmonic / Susanna Mälkki
LIGETI: Concerto for piano and orchestra

May 30–June 1
Bochum, Germany
Ruhr Piano Festival (Klavier-Festival Ruhr)
Ligeti Birthday Project
May 30: spoken introduction to Ligeti’s Piano Concerto (performed by Lorenzo Soulès)
May 31: recital
LIGETI: Études, Books 1–3
June 1: concert/lecture on the evolution of Ligeti’s style

June 3
Potsdam, Germany
Potsdam Chamber Orchestra
BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat, “Emperor”
SCHOENBERG: Ode à la Napoleon Buonaparte

June 6
Montreux, Switzerland
Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France / Mikko Franck
RAVEL: Piano Concerto in G

June 11
Victoria Concert Hall
LIGETI: Musica ricercata
BEETHOVEN: Bagatelles, Op. 119, Nos. 2, 3, 5, 6, 9, 10 & 11 and Op. 33, Nos. 2 & 7
DEBUSSY: Études, Nos. 3, 7 & 11
CHOPIN: Études, Op. 25, Nos. 2, 8 & 11
LIGETI: Études, No. 2, 4, 6, 7, 8 & 13

June 19
Snape, UK
Aldeburgh Festival
Ligeti Day
LIGETI: Études, Books 1–3
Concert/lecture on the evolution of Ligeti’s style
“Late-Night Ligeti” with Michael Wollny, piano

June 23
Munich, Germany
Helmut LACHENMANN: “Got Lost” (with Yuko Kakuta, soprano)

June 29 & 30
Bern, Switzerland
Bern Symphony Orchestra / James Conlon
MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 25 in C

July 18
Graz, Austria
Helmut List Halle
BEETHOVEN: Eroica Variations; Bagatelles, Op. 33
CHOPIN: Polonaise-fantaisie in A-flat; Polonaise “héroïque”; Études, Op. 25, Nos. 2, 7, 8 & 11
LIGETI: Études, Nos. 2, 6, 9, 11 & 13

July 26
Asciano, Italy
Collegium Vocale Crete Senesi festival
LIGETI: Musica ricercata
BEETHOVEN: Bagatelles

July 28 & 30
Salzburg, Austria
Salzburg Festival
July 28: BEETHOVEN: Bagatelles, Op. 119, Op. 126 & Op. 33
July 30: LIGETI: Études, Books 1–3

Aug 26
Grafenegg, Austria
Grafenegg Festival
Tonkunstler Orchestra / Brad Lubman
BARTÓK: Piano Concerto No. 3

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© 21C Media Group, May 2023