“Ferociously Intelligent Musician” Also Performs at Tanglewood and “Mostly Mozart” Festivals in U.S. (Aug 10-16)
“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.”