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This Summer, Pierre-Laurent Aimard Celebrates Messiaen and Birdsong at “Tanglewood Takes Flight” and Ravinia Recital; Returns to Boston Symphony and Los Angeles Philharmonic

Last summer, Grammy Award-winning French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard concluded his artistic directorship of England’s Aldeburgh Festival with an all-day event devoted to his recital of Messiaen’s Catalogue d’oiseaux, which the UK’s Telegraph pronounced a “triumph” that left critic Ivan Hewett “completely swept off his feet.” Now American audiences can hear Aimard play the birdsong-inspired masterpiece at the Ravinia Festival (July 31) and at Tanglewood, where his exploration of birdsong in music forms the centerpiece of “Tanglewood Takes Flight: A Celebration of Birds and Music with Mass Audubon” (July 27–30). The residency also sees him perform Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand with the Boston Symphony and Charles Dutoit (July 29), highlighting a full summer that takes the pianist to the Hollywood Bowl for Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Bramwell Tovey (Aug 31); to Munich (June 22 & 23) and the Salzburg Festival (July 22) for more Messiaen with the Bavarian Radio Symphony and Kent Nagano; and to France, Portugal, Denmark, and Austria for a series of thoughtfully programmed solo and chamber recitals that reaffirm his standing as “a ferociously intelligent musician” (Financial Times).

Messiaen’s Catalogue d’oiseaux at Tanglewood and Ravinia

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).

Having previously directed Tanglewood’s 2013 Festival of Contemporary Music, Aimard returns to the New England festival as the face of its multifaceted new partnership with Mass Audubon, one of the nation’s leading nature conservation nonprofits. Titled “Tanglewood Takes Flight: A Celebration of Birds and Music with Mass Audubon,” the program’s inspiration is the Catalogue d’oiseaux, Messiaen’s monumental set of 13 piano pieces depicting the birds of Europe. Interspersed with electronic works incorporating similar bird calls by French composer Bernard Fort, selected movements from the work serve as the cornerstone of “Birds in Music,” Aimard’s solo recital at Ozawa Hall, which explores recreations of birdsong in music from the Baroque to the present day. Also featuring works by Daquin, Schumann, Ravel, Bartók, and Julian Anderson, the recital demonstrates the pianist’s “ingenious knack for juxtaposing old and new works to tease out fascinating resonances” (New York Times) (July 27).

Aimard also joins Tanglewood’s piano fellows to play music from the Catalogue to complement three guided, early-morning bird walks at Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary and the festival campus (July 27-30). This project recalls the performance with which the pianist crowned his eight-year Aldeburgh tenure last summer: an all-day event, devoted to his recital of the entire Catalogue over the course of four concerts – the first at dawn, the last after midnight – all timed to interact with the activities of local birds on England’s Suffolk coast. Held in collaboration with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), this innovative and unprecedented event impressed France’s Figaro as “simply magic.” The Guardian agreed:

“The pedigree of the performance was impeccable. Aimard is one of the finest Messiaen interpreters around. … But the way he chose to present the three hours of music was also a wonderful tribute to the festival and the Suffolk countryside in which it has always been embedded.”

In a five-star review headed “Art and nature soar together,” The Telegraph elaborated:

“It was a triumph. … But it was much more than that. … For a moment, we heard the owl as Messiaen heard it; a messenger from some other world, glittering and grand. In Aimard’s beautifully tender performance of the “Short-toed Lark,” the bird brought something else; an intimation of a paradisaical innocence and divine Love, waiting for us on the Other Side.”

The Catalogue d’oiseaux is also the vehicle for Aimard’s upcoming return to Chicago’s Ravinia Festival, where he performs it complete in a dedicated solo recital at the Martin Theatre (July 31).

Concertos with the Boston Symphony, LA Philharmonic, and Bavarian Radio Symphony

At Tanglewood, meanwhile, Aimard rounds out his residency in concert with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Charles Dutoit, playing Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in the Koussevitzky Music Shed (July 29). In an article he published in Gramophone magazine last year, Aimard describes the piece as “essential, profound, historically very significant and very dramatic.” His recording of the work – captured live in concert with Pierre Boulez and the Cleveland Orchestra – 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 concerto.

For his second U.S. orchestral collaboration of the summer, Aimard joins Bramwell Tovey and the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl for Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto (Aug 31). When he recorded the work for a complete Beethoven concerto cycle with Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, it was named an “Editor’s Choice” by Gramophone magazine, and impressed The Guardian with its “incisive insights,” “brilliant sparks of imagination,” and “magical” slow movement.

Aimard returns to Messiaen for his upcoming concerts with the Bavarian Radio Symphony at its Munich home (June 22 & 23) and the Salzburg Festival (July 22), in which he undertakes the piano solo in the composer’s epic Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ. All three performances will be led by Kent Nagano, who conducted the work’s West Coast premiere under Messiaen’s supervision, and with whom Aimard collaborated on their Grammy-nominated recording of the composer’s Turangalîla Symphony with the Berlin Philharmonic.

Solo and chamber recitals in France, Denmark, Austria and Portugal

Aimard rounds out the summer with five European recitals that testify to his versatility and range. At France’s Festival D’Aujourd’hui à Demain, he gives the French premieres of Kurtág’s Passio sine nomine and an excerpt from Julian Anderson’s Touch, alongside music by Ligeti, Messiaen, Carter, Marco Stroppa, and George Benjamin, all contemporary composers whose work he consistently champions (July 9). By contrast, at Denmark’s Tivoli Sommer Klassisk, he plays a more traditional program of Bach, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, and Bartók (Aug 13), and at France’s Festival Nancyphonies, he plays Bach’s Goldberg Variations complete (July 6). At Austria’s Styriarte Festival, he juxtaposes Kurtág with Bach, Schubert, and Chopin to explore the relationship between major and minor (July 17). Finally, Aimard joins his frequent piano partner Tamara Stefanovich at Portugal’s Festival Internacional de Música de Espinho, for Bartók’s Sonata for two pianos and percussion and Brahms’s Sonata for two pianos (July 15). Their “enthralling” account of the Brahms in London earlier this year scored a five-star review in The Guardian, which reported:

“There was subtlety of mood and colour here as well as weight. The emotional complexities of the Andante were deeply felt, while the hammering scherzo was breathtaking in its exactitude and dexterity. Wonderful, all of it.”

High-resolution photos may be downloaded here.

Click here to see Pierre-Laurent Aimard play Messiaen’s Catalogue d’oiseaux at the 2016 Aldeburgh Festival

Pierre-Laurent Aimard: summer engagements

June 22 & 23
Munich, Germany
Bavarian Radio Symphony / Kent Nagano
Messiaen: La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ

July 6
Nancy, France
Festival Nancyphonies
Bach: Goldberg Variations

July 9
Cluny, France
Festival D’Aujourd’hui à Demain
Solo recital:
Julian Anderson: Excerpt from Touch (French premiere)
George Benjamin: Selections from Shadowlines
Ligeti: Etudes, Nos. 10 (“Der Zauberlehrling”) and 12 (“Entrelacs”)
Kurtág: Passio sine nomine (French premiere)
Marco Stroppa: Excerpts from Passacaglia canonica and Miniature Estrose
Carter: Caténaires
Messiaen: “The Reed Warbler” from Catalogue d’oiseaux, Book IV

July 15
Espinho, Portugal
Festival Internacional de Música de Espinho
Brahms: Sonata for two pianos in F minor, Op. 34b (with Tamara Stefanovich, piano)
Bartók: Sonata for two pianos and percussion (with Tamara Stefanovich, piano; Daniel Ciampolini and Nuno Simões, percussion)

July 17
Graz, Austria
Styriarte – Die steirischen Festspiele
Solo recital: “Major and Minor”
Music by Bach, Schubert, Chopin, and Kurtág

July 22
Salzburg, Austria
Salzburg Festival
Bavarian Radio Symphony / Kent Nagano
Messiaen: La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ

July 27
Lenox, MA
Solo recital: “Birds in Music”
Messiaen: Catalogue d’oiseaux
Music by Daquin, Schumann, Ravel, Bartók, Julian Anderson, and Bernard Fort

July 29
Lenox, MA
Boston Symphony Orchestra / Charles Dutoit
Ravel: Piano Concerto for the Left Hand

July 31
Highland Park, IL
Ravinia Festival
Solo recital:
Messiaen: Catalogue d’oiseaux

Aug 13
Copenhagen, Denmark
Tivoli Sommer Klassisk
Solo recital:
Music by Bach, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann and Bartók

Aug 31
Los Angeles, CA
Hollywood Bowl
Los Angeles Philharmonic / Bramwell Tovey
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1

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© 21C Media Group, June 2017

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