Peerless French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard heads to the U.S. for three major engagements this summer that exemplify both his unparalleled expertise in contemporary music and his unique take on the classics. He makes his Caramoor debut with a complete performance of Messiaen’s birdsong-inspired magnum opus, Catalogue d’oiseaux, before crossing the continent to debut at the Music Academy of the West with a pair of performances. He plays Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas, marking his first performance with the conductor, and a piano duo recital with his regular collaborator, pianist Tamara Stefanovich. Their program is dedicated to classical modernism, and centers on Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s Keyboard Engine, composed for them, which received its U.S. premiere at Carnegie Hall and in Chicago last fall. Returning to New York in August, Aimard plays Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto at the Mostly Mozart Festival led by National Symphony Music Director Gianandrea Noseda, who, like Aimard, has made Beethoven one of his specialties. Surrounding those engagements is a busy schedule in Europe, similarly broad in scope. In June the pianist performs two all-Stockhausen concerts at London’s Southbank Centre, where he continues his three-year residency. As Artist in Residence at the Royal Concertgebouw this season, he plays orchestral and chamber concerts with Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. He performs two Mozart concertos at Germany’s Mozartfest Würzburg, and a third with the Orquestra de Cadaqués at Spain’s Santander Festival and Italy’s Stresa Festival; at the latter he also gives an account of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, accompanied by modern-day takes on the form by the late composer Oliver Knussen, George Benjamin and Anton Webern. Austria’s Styriarte hosts one more performance of the Goldberg Variations, and rounding out Aimard’s summer is a solo recital at the Aldeburgh Festival that pays tribute to Knussen, who made his home in Snape, Suffolk, where the festival is held, and who had close associations with it dating back to his childhood.
At Caramoor, Aimard’s performance of Olivier Messiaen’s complete Catalogue d’oiseaux – his first performance of the piece in the U.S. in its entirety – is part of a weekend of events called Caramoor Takes Wing!, celebrating birdsong in music. Aimard’s three-part performance begins on the evening of July 13 and will be preceded by a unique outdoor performance by clarinetist David Rothenberg, the author of Why Birds Sing, who regularly explores the relationship between humanity and nature through writing and music. The second part of the Catalogue will be performed early the following morning, July 14, with bird walks before and after provided by Bedford Audubon Society (free with reservation). Later that afternoon, Aimard, Rothenberg, and ornithologist J. Alan Clark will take part in a panel discussion on the topic of birdsong in music. Caramoor Takes Wing! concludes with the third part of Aimard’s performance in the late afternoon. The pianist, who studied with Messiaen and his wife, Yvonne Loriod (for whom the cycle was composed), and is one of the most passionate interpreters of the French composer’s work, recorded the Catalogue last season to inaugurate his exclusive new contract with the Pentatone label, and his account of excerpts from the work was hailed last fall as “the high point” (Frankfurter Rundschau) of Frankfurt’s Musikfest Atmosphères. Aimard plays the complete Catalogue again at the Berliner Festspiele on August 30.
Aimard makes his debut at Music Academy of the West as one of four Mosher Guest Artists this summer. His recital on July 18 with Stefanovich comprises, in addition to Birtwistle’s Keyboard Engine, Messiaen’s Visions de l’Amen, Ravel’s Sites auriculaires, and Bartók’s Seven Pieces from Mikrokosmos. When they played the same program at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall last fall, New York magazine headlined its review “Two Pianos, 20 Fingers, Infinite Pleasure,” called the performance “miraculous,” and raved: “To hear them play Visions is like listening with superpowered ears, each detail magnified and limpid, and at the same time arranged into an expressive structure.” Also at Music Academy of the West, on July 20, Aimard joins Michael Tilson Thomas for their first collaboration. With the Academy Chamber Orchestra they perform Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G, a work Aimard has recorded to acclaim with Pierre Boulez and the Cleveland Orchestra.
The pianist’s final U.S. engagement of the summer is at New York’s Mostly Mozart Festival, where he joins conductor Gianandrea Noseda, Music Director of the National Symphony Orchestra, and the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra for a performance of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto (Aug 2 & 3). Both conductor and soloist are critically lauded interpreters of Beethoven. Noseda, as the Washington Post points out, “gained his first burst of sustained international attention with a BBC Philharmonic recording of the [Beethoven] symphony cycle that set records for downloads at the time.” Aimard, for his part, made a historically-informed recording of the complete Beethoven concertos with the late Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe in 2003; Gramophone, declaring that “the freshness of this set is remarkable” and calling Aimard “an inspired choice” as soloist, singled out his performance of the Fourth as a “quite exceptional achievement.” Following the Mostly Mozart performance, Aimard reunites with Noseda in Europe with the Orquestra de Cadaqués, of which he is also Principal Conductor, for performances in Spain and Italy of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25.
The versatile pianist has been exploring Mozart concertos all season, particularly focusing on No. 25 in C and No. 15 in B-flat, as heard on his acclaimed 2005 recording with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. In June he pairs No. 15 with No. 17 in G, composed the same year, for a concert at Mozartfest Würzburg with the Munich Chamber Orchestra led by Clemens Schuldt. This past spring also saw Aimard tour a program, again with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, that juxtaposed works of Mozart and Elliott Carter, and in his chamber concert in Amsterdam on June 15 he performs Carter’s 90+ for solo piano, before joining members of the Concertgebouw Orchestra for Carter’s Epigrams for piano, violin and cello. The day before that concert, Aimard joins the full orchestra and conductor Vladimir Jurowski for the Dutch premiere of Harrison Birtwistle’s Responses and a rendition of Messiaen’s Oiseaux exotiques, a piece he performs twice more this summer in Girona, Spain and Ravello, Italy.
Aimard’s three-year tenure as Artist-in-Residence at London’s Southbank Centre will conclude in the 2019-20 season, but he winds up this season’s concerts at the venue with two concerts devoted to Karlheinz Stockhausen, another of the modernist masters, like Messiaen, with whom the pianist worked closely during his lifetime. Honoring the 90th anniversary of the composer’s birth, the two programs include his Klavierstücke I-XI, Kontakte for piano, percussion, and electronics, Zyklus for percussion, and the rarely-performed Mantra for two pianos and electronics. Joining Aimard for the concerts are Stefanovich, percussionist Dirk Rothbrust, and sound designer Marco Stroppa, former head of musical research at IRCAM (June 1 & 2). Aimard anchored similar retrospectives dedicated to Stockhausen last summer at the Lucerne Festival and Musikfest Berlin, where his account of the Klavierstücke was hailed as “the performance of a lifetime.” Seen and Heard International continued: “I have no doubt that memories of hearing Pierre-Laurent Aimard play the first eleven Stockhausen Klavierstücke will remain with me forever: like hearing Maurizio Pollini in Chopin or Daniel Barenboim in Beethoven. Not so much a performance of the year as of a lifetime, this recital proved just as all-encompassing and arguably still more necessary.” A few solo performances round out Aimard’s summer. He plays a solo recital on June 10 at Aldeburgh, where he concluded an eight-year tenure as Artistic Director in 2016. The concert pays tribute to the late British composer Oliver Knussen with a program of works by Debussy, Ravel, Dallapiccola, Webern, Elliott Carter, George Benjamin, Knussen himself, and a world premiere by Knussen’s student Charlotte Bray. Two other concerts focus on Bach’s Goldberg Variations, the third of that composer’s major works that Aimard has recently studied in depth. In 2008, his recording of The Art of Fugue was a phenomenal critical and commercial success that topped both the Billboard and iTunes classical charts, prompting The Times of London to wonder: “So, another Everest conquered by Pierre-Laurent Aimard. What’s the next one going to be?” Next he tackled Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, of which his Deutsche Grammophon recording of Book I was heralded as “a new benchmark” (NDR Radio, Germany). The pianist plays the Goldberg Variations at Austria’s Styriarte on July 4, and again on August 27 at Italy’s Stresa Festival, where they will be contextualized by the Knussen, Webern, and Benjamin pieces he played at Aldeburgh.