It was with the Cleveland Orchestra that Pierre-Laurent Aimard launched the current season, releasing his landmark all-Ravel album with the ensemble this past October. The partnership proved, as it has in the past, to be a winning one: BBC Music magazine pronounced the disc “utterly sublime,” Cleveland’s Plain Dealer deemed it “glorious,” and the Los Angeles Times and Chicago’s WFMT were among those that included it in their “Best of 2010” lists and holiday gift guides. Now Aimard rejoins the orchestra under its music director, Franz Welser-Möst, for three weeks of concerts, crowned with a Carnegie Hall appearance on Saturday, February 5. In New York, as at the orchestra’s Miami residency (Jan 28 & 29) and on tour in Ann Arbor (Feb 1) and Newark (Feb 6), the pianist will perform Schumann’s sole Piano Concerto (1845). Additionally, for three concerts at the Cleveland Orchestra’s Severance Hall home (Jan 20-22), at its Indiana University residency (Jan 25), and on tour at Chicago’s Symphony Center (Feb 2), Aimard will play Bartók’s Second Piano Concerto (1930-31); according to the New York Times’s Anthony Tommasini, “the concerto would be a staple if it were not so fiendishly difficult. But without any facade of virtuosic showiness, the intensely focused and technically prodigious Mr. Aimard played it with ease.”
Aimard’s relationship with the Cleveland Orchestra goes back many years. Since his 1996 debut with the ensemble, their frequent appearances together have included US and European tours, and for two seasons – 2007-08 and 2008-09 – Aimard served as its Artist-in-Residence. Under Welser-Möst’s direction, he and the Clevelanders gave the world, US, and New York premieres of George Benjamin’s most recent orchestral work, Duet for piano and orchestra (2008), at Switzerland’s Lucerne Festival, Cleveland’s Severance Hall, and Carnegie Hall, respectively. To have had three such opportunities, to present an important new work like Benjamin’s to as many new audiences, is the kind of honor bestowed nowadays on only the most esteemed performers, and to have done so always with the same forces speaks to the depth of the rapport Aimard has developed with the conductor and orchestra. The upcoming Carnegie Hall and other US dates offer precious opportunities to hear this rare partnership in action.
The pianist can also currently be seen in Pianomania (2009), a nominee for Best Documentary at the European Film Awards. By following piano tuner-to-the-stars Stefan Knüpfer, the film offers a behind-the-scenes look at four of today’s leading concert pianists, Aimard among them. The Boston Globe reports that “the film devotes a large portion of its 93 minutes to the year he [Knüpfer] spends perfecting a piano for the French musician Pierre-Laurent Aimard”; the Guardian judged the results to be “an excellent film.”