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Pierre-Laurent Aimard resumes artistic directorship of Aldeburgh

“Protean keyboard personality”* Pierre-Laurent Aimard kicks off his summer festival season in June, when he returns to England’s Aldeburgh Festival for the second year of his tenure as Artistic Director (June 11-27).  His first was a resounding triumph: “Even his critics are heralding this year’s Aldeburgh Festival…as one of the best programs for years,” reported the Economist last summer, and in Aimard’s hands the festival has remained true to its fabled heritage while reflecting his own musical passions.  The coming season embraces a wealth of repertoire from Bach and Beethoven to Boulez and Berio by way of festival founder Britten himself, and programming highlights include a world premiere from Elliott Carter, a celebration of Peter Pears’s centenary, and artistic collaborations with Pierre Boulez and George Benjamin.  As a performer, Aimard’s contribution will be substantial, ranging from solo and duo recitals to ensemble work and directing from the keyboard.  Later in the summer, he continues his festival commitments on this side of the Atlantic, joining the Chamber Orchestra of Europe for a program of Bach, Elliott Carter, and Ligeti, first at the Tanglewood Festival (Aug 10) and then for the first of his four “Mostly Mozart” Festival appearances, which also feature works by Benjamin, Birtwistle, Boulez, and Lachenmann (Aug 13-16).

When Aimard made his debut as Aldeburgh’s Artistic Director last season, it was, as the Daily Telegraph’s Ian Hewett suggested, “on the face of it…an unlikely match.”  The “deeply English” Aldeburgh Festival, founded on the atmospheric Suffolk coast by Britten and Pears in 1948, was characterized by “thermos flasks and draughty village halls,” whereas the French pianist “started life in the modernist bunker” of Paris’s Ensemble Intercontemporain and IRCAM.  Yet the partnership soon proved a fruitful one, as Hewett was the first to acknowledge; he styled Aimard the “Aldeburgh alchemist” and depicted the 2009 festival as a “lofty two-week symposium where Haydn, Birtwistle, Schumann, and Stockhausen converse[d] across the centuries.”  The pianist’s inspired curatorship impressed other critics equally favorably, the Economist considering last year’s festival one of the best programs for years,” and France’s Figaro marveling that the “Aldeburgh Festival, 33 years after Britten’s demise, [was] more active and inventive than ever.”  As for Aimard’s own performances, the Financial Times praised the “characteristic panache” of his Elliott Carter interpretations, and after the UK premiere of George Benjamin’s Duet, the Times Literary Supplement judged that “Benjamin’s efforts…were rewarded by a first-class performance” from Aimard, “the limits of whose playing no composer has yet managed to find.”

At the 2009 festival, MusicWeb International singled out Aimard’s opening performance, a chamber concert that “provided a full session of intelligent musical enquiry and performance.  Put together by Aimard, and entitled ‘Collage-Montage’, the concert explored the possibilities arising from the juxtaposition of unrelated musical works – both within the overall program, and by playing them alongside and simultaneously on top of each other,” which made for “an imaginative and provocative evening” – and, according to Figaro, “dislodged some preconceptions and led to many questions.”  On Sunday, June 20, Aimard will repeat the experiment: in “Collage-Montage 2010”, a mash-up of music by Beethoven, Boulez, Mussorgsky, Ligeti, Bartók, Janácek, Messiaen, Kurtág, Schumann, and Ravel, he will offer a sampling of the formidable talent that inspired the New York Times’s Anthony Tommasini to describe one of his recital appearances as “one of the most astounding displays of technical virtuosity, musical insight, sheer brilliance, and stamina in [Tommasini’s] concertgoing life.”

At Aimard’s invitation, Benjamin – “one of the most formidable composers of his generation” (New York Times) – will be Aldeburgh’s 2010 guest composer in honor of his 50th birthday, with major works featured throughout the festival.  Benjamin considers Aimard his “oldest musical friend,” and the two have collaborated for more than 20 years.  On Saturday, June 12, Aimard directs the Britten Sinfonia in At First Light (1982) – Benjamin’s “masterpiece” of “timbre and precise technique of instrumentation” (Salzburger Nachrichten) – alongside Boulez’s Dérive 1, Bach keyboard concertos, and two recent re-workings of The Art of Fugue: Bach-Berio’s Contrapunctus XIX and the UK premiere of Benjamin’s own transcription of the Canon and Fugue.  While Aimard remains clear that he “is not a conductor, and…will never be one,” his superlative musicianship nonetheless renders his direction “mesmerizing” (Guardian); he is, after all, “a ferociously intelligent musician, and full of sharp insights” (Financial Times), especially when it comes to Benjamin.  The pianist’s account of Duet, which was written for him, was universally praised; Musical America observed that Aimard’s impeccable playing, and especially his ear for tonal color, enhanced the work’s appeal.”  He performs two of Benjamin’s works for solo piano at Aldeburgh, both of which, like Duet, were dedicated to him.  Shadowlines (2001), a set of six canonic preludes, will be part of “Composer Portrait: George Benjamin”, which also features Aimard’s interpretation of Webern’s iconic Variations, Op. 27 and Benjamin directing the London Sinfonietta (Sat, June 19); the ten short Piano Figures (2004) will be heard in company with music by Britten and Oliver Knussen, who conducts the Britten-Pears Orchestra (June 24).

A leading interpreter of Pierre Boulez’s music, Aimard recently joined celebrations of the great composer/conductor’s 85th birthday with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the relationship between the two French musicians is a close one; Aimard was a founding member of Ensemble Intercontemporain, Boulez’s IRCAM-based chamber orchestra, and he played with the group for many years, participating in a number of important premieres.  Now Aimard welcomes Boulez to Aldeburgh for the first time, beginning the visit with an open discussion titled “Boulez and Aimard” on Friday, June 25.  Taking Boulez’s Schoenberg-influenced Sonatine of 1946 as a starting point and leading up to his 2001-revised Incises for piano, Aimard will help make sense of music since 1945, with musical illustrations from members of the Ensemble Intercontemporain.  June 25 also sees two screenings of Piano du xxe siècle, a film Aimard made in collaboration with Elisabeth Coronel and Arnaud de Mezamat, which investigates Boulez’s first piano sonata as a watershed moment in Europe’s political and musical history.  In a short, beautifully captured sequence of excerpts and discussions, Boulez and Aimard present, analyze, and discuss the sonata, which seemed instantly to forge a new musical language.

Aimard presents the Ensemble Intercontemporain on Saturday, June 26, when Boulez conducts a program of major orchestral works: his own Dérive II and Ligeti’s Chamber Concerto, Varèse’s Octandre, and the world premiere of Elliott Carter’s What Are Years, an Aldeburgh co-commission with Tanglewood and the Lucerne Festival.  Scored for soprano (Claire Booth) and ensemble, the new work is based on five texts by American poet Marianne Moore, and is dedicated to Aimard, who has long championed Carter’s music.  Last year the composer managed to make the journey to Aldeburgh to celebrate his 100th birthday.

Aimard, who has described chamber music as “a great antidote to what can be the poisonous life of a soloist,” will also take part in two duo recitals at this year’s festival.  On Tuesday, June 22, he performs song cycles by Schumann, Debussy, and Messiaen with soprano Christiane Oelze, whom he previously partnered in a Lieder program at the Salzburg Mozartwoche; he joins violinist Thomas Zehetmair – dedicatee of violin concertos by Heinz Holliger and James Dillon – for a program of Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, Schoenberg, and Boulez on Saturday, June 26.

The pianist’s numerous Aldeburgh appearances include co-hosting the fourth in a series of events investigating “Music and the Brain”; on Sunday, June 20, he joins German neuroscientist Eckart Altenmüller to explore bi-manual coordination in “The Pianist’s Brain: A Two-Part Invention”.  All told, Aldeburgh’s 2010 festival programming – the rich breadth of repertoire, the guest artists’ eminence, the variety of events, and all the careful forethought and planning behind them – does justice not only to Aimard’s musical preferences, but to what the Guardian has described as the “profound integrity of this extraordinary musician.”

Aldeburgh adjourns on June 27, but the pianist is far from idle for the rest of the summer.  After further European engagements – at Austria’s Styriarte Festival, Germany’s Klavier-Festival Ruhr, and London’s BBC Proms – he turns his attention to festivals on this side of the Atlantic.  As in Germany, the majority of his U.S. dates are with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, with whom he collaborates frequently; his recording of the complete Beethoven Piano Concertos with the ensemble won a 2003 Echo Award.  A trio of musicians from the orchestra joins Aimard for a program of chamber music by Bach, Ligeti, and Elliott Carter, all signature Aimard fare.  They perform this twice: first when he returns to New England’s Tanglewood Festival on Tuesday, August 10 and then at New York’s Lincoln Center on Friday, August 13, for the first of Aimard’s four appearances at the “Mostly Mozart” Festival.  On the two subsequent festival evenings, Aimard and the orchestra explore Bach’s playful side in two concerts of keyboard concertos.  The performance on Saturday, August 14 features the popular fifth Brandenburg Concerto paired with traditional Georgian choral works from the outstanding Georgian vocal group Ensemble Basiani, while the second pairs two further keyboard concertos with works by Boulez and Carter.

Bach is also the focus and theme of Aimard’s final “Mostly Mozart” appearance, on Monday, August 16, when he joins conductor Ludovic Morlot and the International Contemporary Ensemble, “a powerhouse of new-music programming” (New Yorker) and winner of the 2010 Trailblazer Award.  The program includes and takes as its theme transcriptions/excerpts from The Art of Fugue, exploring the relationship between Bach’s counterpoint and the polyphony of newer works and composers, namely Benjamin’s transparent, colorful polyphony and use of the medieval hochetus technique; the theatrical polyphony of Harrison Birtwistle; and Helmut Lachenmann’s Mouvement, “a whirring, rasping, ricocheting maze of new, beautifully fashioned sounds” (New York Times).  As Aimard’s complete Art of Fugue recording – an emphatic critical success – prompted Geoff Brown to exclaim in London’s Times: “So, another Everest conquered by Pierre-Laurent Aimard.  What’s the next one going to be?”

* Peter G. Davis, New York magazine


Pierre-Laurent Aimard: summer engagements 2010
Aldeburgh Festival
(all feature performances by Aimard except where noted)
Friday, June 11
Aldeburgh Festival
“Into the Little Hill”
Snape; 7:30pm
Claire Booth, soprano
Susan Bickley, mezzo-soprano
John Fulljames, director
Soutra Gilmour, designer
Jon Clark, lighting
Mick McNicholas, projection
London Sinfonietta; Franck Ollu
Berio: Recital I
Benjamin: Into the Little Hill
(**Aimard not performing**)
Saturday, June 12
Aldeburgh Festival
“Britten Sinfonia and Aimard”
Snape; 7:30pm
Britten Sinfonia
Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D, BWV 1050
Bach trans. Benjamin: Canon and Fugue from The Art of Fugue (UK premiere)
Pierre Boulez: Dérive 1
George Benjamin: At First Light
Bach-Berio: Contrapunctus XIX from The Art of Fugue
Bach: Keyboard Concerto in D minor
Saturday, June 19
Aldeburgh Festival
“Composer Portrait: George Benjamin”
Britten Studio, Snape; 11am 
Susan Bickley, mezzo-soprano
London Sinfonietta; George Benjamin
Scriabin: Five Preludes, Op. 74
Debussy: Syrinx
Messiaen: Cloches d’angoisse et larmes d’adieu
Ravel: Chansons madécasses
Webern: Variations, Op. 27
Benjamin: Shadowlines; Upon Silence
Sunday, June 20
Aldeburgh Festival
“The Pianist’s Brain: A Two-Part Invention” (Music and the Brain 4)
Snape; 6pm
Neuroscientist Eckart Altenmüller
Sunday, June 20
Aldeburgh Festival
“Collage-Montage 2010”
Snape; 8pm
Includes music by Beethoven, Boulez, Mussorgsky, Ligeti, Bartók, Janácek, Messiaen, Kurtág, Schumann, and Ravel
Tuesday June 22
Aldeburgh Festival
“Oelze and Aimard”
Snape; 8pm
Christiane Oelze, soprano
Schumann: Frauenliebe und -leben
Debussy: Chansons de Bilitis
Messiaen: Harawi
Thursday, June 24
Aldeburgh Festival
“Britten–Pears Orchestra”
Snape; 8pm
Richard Watkins, horn
Robert Murray, tenor
Oliver Knussen conductor
Britten: Nocturne
George Benjamin: Piano Figures; Dance Figures
Oliver Knussen: Horn Concerto
Britten: The Building of the House
Friday, June 25
Aldeburgh Festival
“Boulez and Aimard”
Britten Studio, Snape; 3pm
In conversation with Pierre Boulez
Musical illustrations by members of Ensemble Intercontemporain
Friday, June 25
Aldeburgh Festival
Film: Piano du xxe siècle
Jerwood Kiln Studio, Snape; 5:30pm and 6:15pm
Saturday, June 26
Aldeburgh Festival
“Zehetmair and Aimard”
Snape; 11am
Thomas Zehetmair, violin
Mozart: Violin Sonata in G (K. 379)
Boulez: Anthèmes I for solo violin
Schumann: Sonata No. 1 in A, Op. 105
Schoenberg: Fantasie, Op. 47
Schubert: Fantasy in C, Op. 159 (D. 934)
Saturday, June 26
Aldeburgh Festival
“Ensemble Intercontemporain and Boulez”
Snape; 7:30pm
Ensemble Intercontemporain / Pierre Boulez
Claire Booth soprano
Varèse: Octandre
Ligeti: Chamber Concerto
Elliott Carter: What are Years (world premiere)
Pierre Boulez: Dérive II
(**Aimard not performing**)
Sunday, July 4
Styriarte – The Styrian Festival
Graz, Austria
Bartok:  Nenie Op.9 No.4
Liszt: Aux Cyprès de la Villa d’Este no. 1 from Années de pèlerinage
Messiaen: Les Traquet Stapazin from Catalogue des oiseaux                
Liszt:  Vallee d’Obermann from Années de pèlerinage
Liszt: Les jeux d’eau de la Villa d’Este from Années de pèlerinage
Ravel: Miroirs
Monday, July 5
Styriarte – The Styrian Festival
Graz, Austria
Eötvös: Kosmos, for two pianos
Kurtág: selections from Játékok
Reich: Clapping Music
Ligeti: Fém from Études pour piano, No. 8 (adapted for piano and percussion)
Nancarrow: Studies for Player Piano Nos. 2 & 9 (arr. for two pianos)
Aimard: Divertimento for four players, after Poeme symphonique for 100 métronomes
Bartók: Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion
Tamara Stefanovich / Colin Currie / Sam Walton
Thursday, July 8
Klavier-Festival Ruhr
Essen, Germany
Bach: Keyboard Concertos (BWV 1052, 1055, 1056)
Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Monday, July 12 and Tuesday, July 13
Klavier-Festival Ruhr
Essen, Germany
Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Monday, August 2
BBC Proms
London, UK
Mozart: Piano Concerto No.27 in B flat major, K595
Ligeti: Musica ricercata – No. 2: Mesto, rigido e ceremoniale
Benjamin: Duet
BBC Symphony Orchestra / Nott
Tuesday, August 10
Tanglewood Festival
Tanglewood, MA
Seiji Ozawa Hall
Bach: Sonatas for flute, violin, and piano from The Musical Offering
Carter: Two Diversions for solo piano
Carter: Riconoscenza for solo violin
Carter: Tri-Tribute, three solo works for piano
Carter: Scrivo in vento for solo flute
Bach: Canon from The Musical Offering (flute and piano; violin and flute; flute, violin and piano)
Ligeti: Trio for violin, horn, and piano
Musicians from the Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Friday, August 13
“Mostly Mozart” Festival
New York, NY
Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse
Bach: Sonatas for flute, violin, and piano from The Musical Offering
Carter: Tri-Tribute, three solo works for piano
Carter: Scrivo in vento for solo flute
Carter: Riconoscenza for solo violin
Bach: Canon from The Musical Offering (flute, violin and piano)
Ligeti: Trio for violin, horn, and piano
Musicians from the Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Saturday, August 14
“Mostly Mozart” Festival
New York, NY
Alice Tully Hall
Bach: Keyboard Concerto in D minor (BWV 1052)
Traditional Georgian polyphony
Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major (BWV 1050)
Chamber Orchestra of Europe / Ensemble Basiani
Sunday, August 15
“Mostly Mozart” Festival
New York, NY
Alice Tully Hall
Bach: Piano Concerto in A major (BWV 1055)
Carter: Piano Quintet
Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major (BWV 1048)
Pierre Boulez: Memoriale
Bach: Piano Concerto in F minor (BWV 1056)
Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Monday, August 16
“Mostly Mozart” Festival
New York, NY
Rose Theater
Purcell (trans. Benjamin): Fantasia VII
Benjamin: Antara
Birtwistle: selections from Bach Measures, after J.S. Bach: Orgelbüchlein
Birtwistle: Slow Frieze
Bach (arr. Berio): Contrapunctus XIX
Lachenmann: Mouvement
International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) / Ludovic Morlot
Thursday, August 19
Bad Reichenhall
Bach: Sonata for Cello and Piano in G minor (BWV 1029)
Bartók: 14 Bagatelles
Dvorák: Piano Quintet, Op. 81
Valérie Aimard / Tamara Stefanovich / Kuss-Quartet
Friday, August 20
Bad Reichenhall
Beethoven: String Quartet in F major, Op. 135
Kurtág: Signs, Games and Messages; excerpts from Játékok
Schubert: String Quintet in C major (D. 956)
Valérie Aimard / Kuss-Quartet
Saturday, August 21
Bad Reichenhall
Liszt: Les jeux d’eau á la Villa d’Este
Boulez: Une page d’éphémeride
Ravel: Miroirs
Debussy: Sonata for cello and piano
Mendelssohn: Sonata for cello and piano, No. 2, Op. 58
Valérie Aimard
Sunday, August 22
Bad Reichenhall
Haydn: Variations in F minor (Hob. XVII:20)
Haydn: Piano Sonata in A-flat major (Hob. XVI:43)
Carter: 90+; Two Diversions; Matribute; Sistribute; Fratribute
Brahms: Sonata for two pianos, Op. 34b
Tamara Stefanovich

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 © 21C Media Group, May 2010

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