Pierre-Laurent Aimard

The son of parents who were both doctors, Pierre-Laurent Aimard entered the Lyons Conservatoire at the age of seven gaining a premier prix five years later. From the age of twelve Aimard studied piano with Yvonne Loriod, chamber music with Geneviève Joy and counterpoint with Jean-Claude Henry at the Paris Conservatoire. He gained his premier prix in piano in 1972 and in chamber music a year later. His studies with Messiaen’s wife Loriod prepared him for the Messiaen Competition which he won. Aimard then completed his piano studies in London with Maria Curcio. His winning of the Messiaen Competition launched Aimard’s career and since then he has built up a reputation as one of the greatest pianists of today to be particularly associated with twentieth-century music. He performed all of Messiaen’s works for piano and made a highly praised recording of the Vingt regards sur l’Enfant Jésus.

Aimard made his debut in America with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. When only nineteen he was invited by Pierre Boulez to be the pianist of his Ensemble Intercontemporain, and has performed many of Boulez’s works. In the mid-1980s Aimard became associated with György Ligeti, who chose him to record his works for piano as well as dedicating to him some of his notoriously difficult études. Other twentieth-century composers with whom Aimard has become linked are Charles Ives, Anton Webern, Karlheinz Stockhausen, György Kurtág and Luciano Berio. Aimard also encourages younger composers such as George Benjamin and Marco Stroppa, and has given first performances of many works including those by Ligeti, Philippe Manoury and Michel Tabachnik. Although another of Aimard’s interests is in computer music, his repertoire is not exclusively twentieth century. He has performed all of the Beethoven piano concertos with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and Bernard Haitink and works for piano and orchestra by Scriabin with Mikhail Pletnev.

Aimard has played with many of the great orchestras including the Chicago Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic, the Cleveland, the Philadelphia, the Boston Symphony, the Philharmonia, the London Symphony, the Royal Concertgebouw, and the St Petersburg Philharmonic with such conductors as André Previn, Charles Dutoit, Zubin Mehta, Seiji Ozawa, and Pierre Boulez. He participates at many of the international festivals including those at Tanglewood, Edinburgh, Salzburg, Vienna and Berlin; and teaches at the Paris Conservatoire and the Hochschule für Musik, Cologne.

Aimard’s main recordings have been made for Teldec/Warner Classics. Recent releases include a disc of Mozart piano concertos where Aimard also conducts the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. From 2003 comes a set of the complete Beethoven piano concertos with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and Nikolaus Harnoncourt. These are fascinating performances in that Aimard seems to be discovering the works afresh as he plays them, delighting in revealing his discoveries to the listener. As with many performers of contemporary music, Aimard’s sound is sometimes too clinical, giving a feeling of studied spontaneity, but on the whole this is an excellent and thought-provoking set. His 2001 recording of Debussy’s études and Images has all Aimard’s qualities of exemplary technique and clarity. One is aware that he listens intently to everything he does. Aimard’s Carnegie Hall debut, an extremely well-planned programme of Berg, Beethoven, Liszt, Debussy and Ligeti, was recorded and issued by Teldec. Here it is only Beethoven’s ‘Appassionata’ Sonata which disappoints, where Aimard sounds emotionally detached and the thunder and fire of Beethoven’s imagination is lacking; but the rest of the programme contains some excellent playing. Other notable releases of twentieth-century music include the finest available recording of Ligeti’s Études and Aimard’s superb second recording of Messiaen’s Vingt regards sur l’Enfant Jésus, made in 1999. Aimard also appears as an accomplished accompanist to Susan Graham in a selection of songs by Charles Ives while the remainder of the disc contains a superb account of Ives’s ‘Concord’ Sonata.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).