Pierre-Laurent Aimard (photo: Marco Borggreve)
(August 2023) — During his lifetime, György Ligeti was a key source of inspiration for Pierre-Laurent Aimard. Over the coming season, the Grammy-winning French pianist continues honoring Ligeti with performances of the late composer’s Piano Concerto with the New York Philharmonic and Susanna Malkki (Nov 2–4), a solo recital in the Philharmonic’s “Artist Spotlight” series (Nov 7), and further concerto and recital engagements in LondonAmsterdamTokyo and beyond. The pianist returns to the States for thoughtfully curated solo recitals exploring the keyboard fantasy in Philadelphia (Feb 23), Chicago (Feb 25) and San Francisco (Feb 27), followed by accounts of Messiaen’s Des canyons aux étoiles with Matthias Pintscher and the Cincinnati Symphony (March 1 & 2). Aimard’s other 2023-24 highlights include orchestral Messiaen collaborations in Paris and Berlin; a four-city Asian solo recital tour; and two European tours showcasing Bartók’s Third Piano Concerto. Made with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the San Francisco Symphony, his new recording of all three Bartók piano concertos is due for release by Pentatone in September.
Honoring Ligeti at 100 in New York City, London, Amsterdam, Tokyo and beyond
This year marks the centennial of the birth of György Ligeti, with whom Aimard shared an intimate working relationship until the Hungarian composer’s death in 2006. In a recent essay for VAN magazine, Aimard describes his late friend as “the epitome of a polyglot and a free spirit,” whose music is “irresistible in its visual poetry and the power of its gestural, formal, rhythmic and tonal influence.” This admiration was mutual. Ligeti considered Aimard “today’s leading interpreter of contemporary piano music,” and dedicated several of his Études to the pianist, who won a Gramophone Award for his recording of the complete set. Indeed, critics have consistently recognized Aimard’s way with the composer’s work, hailing him as “the definitive interpreter of this technically fearsome keyboard writing” (The Guardian).
After spring and summer performances of Ligeti’s music in Berlin, Paris, Seoul and at the Aldeburgh, Ruhr and Salzburg festivals, Aimard continues paying international tribute to the great modernist this fall. In New York, he joins the New York Philharmonic under Susanna Malkki for accounts of Ligeti’s Piano Concerto (Nov 2–4), before juxtaposing selected Ligeti Études with works reflecting their cultural inspirations in the Philharmonic’s “Artist Spotlight” recital series (Nov 7).
In London, Aimard headlines Ligeti 100, a full day devoted to the composer at the Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, with an all-Ligeti solo recital of the Chromatische PhantasieMusica ricercata and selected Études, followed by a rendition of the Piano Concerto with Vimbayi Kaziboni and the London Sinfonietta (Oct 14).
Aimard gives two more performances of Ligeti’s concerto, first at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw with Asko Schönberg (Oct 28) and then in Tokyo with Sylvain Cambreling leading the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra (Dec 5). It was with the Asko Ensemble, one of the two Dutch chamber orchestras that merged to become today’s Asko Schönberg, that Aimard made his Grammy-nominated recording of the concerto in 2001.
In solo recitals at both Germany’s Essen Philharmonie (Sep 26) and the Ligeti Festival in Montreal’s Salle Bourgie (Nov 5), Aimard pairs selections from Ligeti’s Études and Musica ricercata with Bagatelles and Études by Beethoven, Chopin and Debussy. He also features the Musica ricercata in recital programs at Frankfurt’s Alte Oper (Sep 29) and the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris (April 28), as well as including the Études in a duo recital with his regular piano partner, Tamara Stefanovich, in Zurich (Oct 1; see below).
Keyboard fantasy program in Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Rome & more
Early next year, Aimard returns to the States for solo recitals in Chicago (Feb 25), San Francisco (Feb 27) and Philadelphia, where he pairs his performance with a masterclass (Feb 23). Spanning almost four centuries of music, Aimard’s programs deconstruct the keyboard fantasy, a genre whose improvisatory roots let its composers’ imaginations run free. In Chicago, he juxtaposes examples by Sweelinck, MozartC.P.E. Bach and Beethoven with George Benjamin’s Fantasy on Iambic Rhythm, and in San Francisco and Philadelphia with fantasies by ChopinElliott Carter and American experimentalist Charles Ives, who celebrates his sesquicentenary in 2024. After a similar exploration of the fantasia form in La Jolla, the San Diego Union Tribune marveled: “There have been few piano recitals this season so thoughtfully curated as the one that Pierre-Laurent Aimard gave. … A fascinating, unforgettable concert.” Likewise, after one of his fantasia programs at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, Seen and Heard International reflected:
“Recitals by Pierre-Laurent Aimard are never going to be less than fascinating. His quick mind and questing spirit see to that. … If only all piano recitals showed this level of commitment to ideas, to the music of our time, to connecting threads across centuries.”
Aimard gives additional fantasy-themed solo recitals in France and Italy: in Nîmes (Dec 8), Avezzano (Feb 16) and Rome (Feb 17). His other 2023-24 solo recital highlights include a four-city Asian tour, with dates in Beijing (Nov 24), Xi’an (Nov 26), Shanghai (Nov 28) and at Tokyo’s Yamaha Hall (Dec 1); appearances including a masterclass in Florence (Feb 10–15); and performances of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier in Homburg, Germany (Sep 21) and at Vienna’s Musikverein (Nov 16). His 2014 Deutsche Grammophon recording of the first volume of Bach’s masterpiece was proclaimed “a new benchmark” (NDR Radio, Germany) that “earned him a secure place among the masters” (Die Welt, Germany).
Messiaen in Cincinnati, Paris, Dresden & more
The late Olivier Messiaen is another of the modernist masters with whom Aimard enjoyed especially close personal and professional ties. As a former student of Yvonne Loriod, Messiaen’s wife, the pianist has championed his countryman’s music throughout his career, proving himself “a peerless interpreter of Messiaen’s music” (Boston Globe). In the U.S. next spring, Aimard joins the Cincinnati Symphony and Matthias Pintscher for multimedia performances of Des canyons aux étoiles (“From the Canyons to the Stars”). Inspired by Messiaen’s visits to Utah’s Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park, the French composer’s epic, otherworldly masterpiece will be accompanied by immersive and evocative video art (March 1 & 2).
Later next spring, Aimard revisits two of Messiaen’s orchestral works with European orchestras, performing Oiseaux exotiques with Cristian Măcelaru and the Orchestre national de France (March 30) and the Turangalîla-Symphony – as heard on the pianist’s 2001 recording with the Berlin Philharmonic – with Myung-Whun Chung and the Staatskapelle Dresden (June 9–11). In both Aimard’s upcoming duo recitals with Tamara Stefanovich, in Zurich (Oct 1; see above) and Madrid (April 15), their program features Messiaen’s Visions de l’Amen, as heard on the duo’s 2022 Pentatone release, Visions. In St. Pölten, Austria, the pianist reprises Messiaen’s Catalogue d’oiseaux in solo recital (May 1), following the success of his 2018 Pentatone recording of the work, which was one of the Sunday Times’s Best Albums of the Year, a Gramophone Editor’s Choice and a German Music Critics’ Award winner, while one track from the album was selected as one of the New York Times’s “25 Best Classical Music Tracks of 2018.”
Bartók concertos on new SFS recording & live in Europe
Aimard’s first Bartók concerto recording – made with Pierre Boulez, Stefanovich and the London Symphony Orchestra – was recognized with a Grammy nomination; to quote The Guardian, “In piano music like this he has no equal.” Now, Pentatone releases the complete Bartók concerto cycle he recorded over the last two years with the San Francisco Symphony and Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen. Due for digital release on September 15 and physical release during that same month, the new album captures Aimard’s interpretations of the three concertos he considers “among the most demanding in the repertoire, due to their combination of instrumental challenge and musical significance.” As he puts it: “Their intensity is incandescent.”
In live performance, the Hungarian composer’s Third Piano Concerto figures prominently in Aimard’s fall programming. He plays it with two Hungarian orchestras, first with the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra in Romania and Slovenia, at dates in Bucharest (Sep 8), Sibiu (Sep 9) and Maribor (Nov 10), and then with András Keller and the Concerto Budapest Symphony on a tour of the UK and Ireland, in Guildford (Sep 13), London (Sep 14), Cheltenham (Sep 15), Edinburgh (Sep 17) and Dublin (Sep 19). Aimard also revisits Bartók’s Second Piano Concerto with the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra and Cambreling next spring (May 5).
In addition, the coming season sees Aimard perform Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto with the Berlin Radio Symphony (March 9); Nono’s Como una ola de fuerza y luz with Milan’s La Scala Orchestra (Jan 22–25); and concertos by Ravel with the Czech Philharmonic (Dec 13–15) and State Orchestra of Lower Saxony (March 17 & 18).