Chicago Symphony Orchestra in New York diary, Day 3, continued: A pianist, a conductor, and focus
Pierre-Laurent Aimard walked to the piano yesterday with the air of a somewhat high-strung schoolboy, a kid with big glasses who faces an important test. He even had a sheaf of papers under his arm, like someone who brings in the books he's been studying to show that, indeed, he has been studying. He then proceeded to play a staggering account of Ligeti’s jittery, yet shadowy, Piano Concerto, which was contained in that sheaf of papers, on the first of his Carnegie Hall: Perspectives Series concerts with the CSO.
Now, Aimard’s recorded this concerto twice, and it's unheard of for a musician to record a rarely heard work like this concerto more than once. The guy knows it inside out. And still his eyebrows fly towards the ceiling when he arrives at one of Ligeti's rhythmic curveballs or felicitous touches of orchestration. That capacity for surprise (or, at least, acting surprised so that an audience understands that, yes, it is a surprise) marks Aimard typical restlessless. He's never satisfied that something is finished, there’s always music to be discovered‑and not just classical music, he listens to pop and is an fervent admirer of Pygmies' music‑and he’ll share it with anyone who'll listen. Yesterday's tour de force showed him at his focused best. Terse in the first movement and sharply accenting what needed it in the last, Aimard distilled the chaos into something anyone could follow. He can boil everything down into manageable portions, but the meal maintains its snap and flavor, without going soggy. His first solo recital as part of the Perspectives series is tonight in 300-seat Zankel Hall, and it's been sold out since September. Not bad for a frightfully focused schoolboy. This morning, I'm on my way to Juilliard to see Boulez lead a masterclass with the Juilliard orchestra. Expect them to receive a workout, and expect me to tell you about it.