(September 2022)—On September 23, Grammy-winning French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard releases Visions on the Pentatone label with pianist Tamara Stefanovich, the centerpiece of which is Olivier Messiaen’s rapturous two-piano Visions de l’Amen, complemented by solo piano music from Georges EnescuOliver Knussen and Harrison Birtwistle. Live Messiaen performances are also prominent in the pianist’s 2022-23 season, including the Catalogue d’oiseaux at Tokyo Opera City and Oiseaux exotiques in Copenhagen in conjunction with Aimard’s receipt of the prestigious Sonning Music Prize. The season marks the centennial of Hungarian composer György Ligeti, with whom, like Messiaen, Aimard worked closely; the pianist celebrates the occasion with a high-profile performance of Ligeti’s Études at the Paris Philharmonie, as well as performances of his Concerto for Piano with David Robertson leading the Seoul Philharmonic and the Karajan Academy of the Berliner Philharmoniker led by Susanna Mälkki, and a duo performance of Ligeti works with pianist Michael Wollny in Berlin. Highlights of Aimard’s U.S. engagements include recorded performances of Bartók’s Second Piano Concerto with the San Francisco Symphony led by Esa-Pekka Salonen, completing a cycle that will also be released on Pentatone; a La Jolla Music Society recital program alternating Fantasias by Mozart with examples of the genre by composers from Sweelinck to George Benjamin; and performances of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto with the Los Angeles Philharmonic under the direction of Iceland Symphony Chief Conductor Eva Ollikainen.
Visions on Pentatone with Tamara Stefanovich and live Messiaen
Marking Aimard’s third, and Stefanovich’s second, release on Pentatone, Visions is a collection of works whose composers share a fascination with the sound of bells: Messiaen’s Visions de l’Amen is followed by Enescu’s “Carillon nocturne” from Suite No. 3, Op. 18, “Pièces Impromptues”; Knussen’s Prayer Bell Sketch (played by Stefanovich); and “Clock IV” from Birtwistle’s Harrison’s Clocks.
Closely associated with Messiaen from the time he was a student of the composer’s wife Yvonne Loriod at the Paris Conservatory, Aimard has been acclaimed by The Guardian as “one of the best Messiaen interpreters around.” About the new albumhe explains:
“I played Visions de l’Amen from the age of fifteen, turned the pages when Yvonne Loriod and Messiaen performed it, worked on it with him, and played it countless times – invariably transported by the irresistible force of Messiaen’s vision. If having a home really means anything, then this piece is my home.”
Aimard made his label debut on Pentatone in 2018 with an account of Messiaen’s 13-part solo piano piece, Catalogue d’oiseaux, a tribute to the birds and landscapes of France that was dedicated to Loriod; Aimard’s recording was honored with the prestigious German Music Critics’ Award. In November, the pianist performs his live interpretation of the piece – called “masterful, with an incisive brilliance and relentless focus” by the New York Times – at Tokyo Opera City (Nov 3). Aimard also opens his season with Messiaen, joining the Stavanger Symphony led by Andris Poga for the Turangalîla-Symphonie (Aug 26); plays Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus in Leipzig (Oct 21); and performs the composer’s Quartet for the End of Time in three Spanish cities along with violinist Isabelle Faust, cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras, and one of Aimard’s frequent recital partners, clarinetist and composer Jörg Widmann (Nov 30–Dec 4).
Sonning Music Prize
This fall, Aimard is being honored with Denmark’s highest musical distinction, the Léonie Sonning Music Prize, previous laureates of which include Stravinsky, Bernstein, Britten, Miles Davis, Sofia Gubaidulina and Yo-Yo Ma. The prize will be awarded during the 2022 Sonning Music Prize Concert in Copenhagen, when Aimard will join the Royal Danish Orchestra under Sylvain Cambreling for performances of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto, Messiaen’s Oiseaux exotiques and George Benjamin’s Duet (Oct 7). In conjunction with the award, there is also a “Portrait Festival” featuring the pianist, during which he will give a masterclass for students from the Royal Danish Academy of Music (Oct 8) and give two performances, in Copenhagen and Aarhus, of a recital incorporating music from his fantasia program (see “U.S. performances” below for more information) along with works by Nikolai ObukhovLigetiBartók, and Rued Langgaard (Oct 4 & 9). Aimard performs the latter composer’s Insectarium, a catalogue of short pieces about insects composed in 1917 which has the distinction of being one of the earliest pieces in music history – if not the earliest – to require the pianist to play directly on the strings and use the piano case as a percussion instrument. The Portrait Festival also includes an artist talk with Aimard and celebrated piano technician Stefan Knüpfer, along with a screening of the 2009 documentary Pianomania, centering on Knüpfer’s work with Aimard as he prepared to record Bach’s The Art of Fugue (Oct 5).
U.S. performances
This past June, Aimard performed and recorded Bartók’s First and Third Piano Concertos with the San Francisco Symphony and Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen, with whom the pianist also collaborated on “Salonen/Aimard: Inspirations,” a celebrated 2017 series at London’s Royal Festival Hall. In February, Aimard returns to San Francisco to record and perform Bartók’s Second Piano Concerto, completing the cycle for future release on Pentatone (Feb 17–19). He will also perform Bartók’s Second Concerto in December with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin under the direction of Elim Chan (Dec 11), and in three French cities with the Orchestre National de Lille led by Alexander Bloch (Jan 11–13).
Known as “a brilliant musician and an extraordinary visionary” (Wall Street Journal), Aimard performs a thoughtfully curated recital program this season tracing the fantasia form through compositions by SweelinckC.P.E. BachMozartVolkonsky and George Benjamin, another composer in the long list of those with whom Aimard has had close working relationships. In the U.S. he performs the program at California’s La Jolla Music Society (Feb 26).
The recipient of a Gramophone Award for his recording of Beethoven’s complete piano concertos, Aimard returns to the U.S. next May for performances of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto with the LA Philharmonic led by Icelandic conductor Eva Ollikainen, Chief Conductor of the Iceland Symphony (May 11–14).
Ligeti centennial
Next 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, and Aimard is the dedicatee of several of Ligeti’s Études, of which the pianist’s complete Sony Masterworks recording was recognized with a Gramophone Award. Following a presentation of his fantasia recital program at the Paris Philharmonie this fall (Oct 3), Aimard returns in the spring to perform the complete set of Ligeti’s Études at the same venue’s “Ligeti 100 Weekend” (March 5), as well as joining jazz pianist Michael Wollny at the Berlin Philharmonie for a concert titled “Ligeti 100: A Musical Bow in Dialogues” (May 17). Between those two performances, Aimard goes to South Korea to join conductor David Robertson and the Seoul Philharmonic for Ligeti’s Piano Concerto (April 19 & 20), and reprises the same work at the end of the season in Berlin, with the Karajan Academy of the Berliner Philharmoniker and conductor Susanna Mälkki (May 28).