Pianist  Pierre-Laurent  Aimard

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Pierre-Laurent Aimard was born on September 9, 1957 in Lyon, where he entered the conservatory. Later he studied with Yvonne Loriod and with Maria Curcio.

In 1973, he was awarded the chamber music prize of the Paris Conservatoire. In the same year, he won the first prize at the international Olivier Messiaen Competition. In 1977, at the invitation of Pierre Boulez, he became a founding member of the Ensemble InterContemporain. He made his American debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the age of twenty*, performing the piano solo part in Olivier Messiaen's Turangalîla-Symphonie conducted by André Previn. [*Interestingly, this fact has been re-printed in every source, yet the concert was in January of 1977, meaning Aimard was actually 19 years of age!]

Aimard is particularly committed to contemporary music. He was the soloist in several premieres of works such as Répons by Boulez, Klavierstück XIV by Karlheinz Stockhausen, and the Eleventh and Thirteenth Piano Études of György Ligeti. He has also performed the work of contemporary composers such as George Benjamin and Marco Stroppa. In May 2012, he premiered Tristan Murail's piano concerto Le Désenchantement du Monde.

Aimard was one of Carnegie Hall's "Perspectives" artists for the 2006-2007 concert season, where he programmed his own series of concerts. He served as artist-in-residence with the Cleveland Orchestra for two seasons, from 2007 to 2009. In 2007 Aimard was the Music Director of the Ojai Music Festival.

In addition to his work with contemporary music, Aimard has recorded the five Beethoven Piano Concertos with Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Aimard has recorded for the Sony Classical and Teldec labels. In August 2007, he signed a new recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon.

Aimard has recently extended his musical activities to conducting.

In 2009, Aimard became the Artistic Director of the Aldeburgh Festival in England, for an initial contract of 3 years. Aimard is a visiting professor and an Honorary Member (2006) of the Royal Academy of Music. He appears in the 2007 film Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037.

Aimard was featured recording Bach's The Art of Fugue in the 2009 award-winning German-Austrian documentary Pianomania, about Steinway & Sons' piano technician Stefan Knüpfer, which was directed by Lilian Franck and Robert Cibis. The film premiered theatrically in North America, where it was met with positive reviews by The New York Times, as well as in Asia and throughout Europe, and is a part of the Goethe-Institut catalogue.

--  Names which are links refer to my Interviews elsewhere on my website.  BD  

In May of 1988, Aimard was again in Chicago, and agreed to sit down with me for an interview.  His English was good, though naturally it was infused with French pronunciation and structure.  Much of this has been smoothed out, but a few lovely turns of phrase have been left in to provide a bit of flavor for the reader.

He was serious throughout, and paused a few times to consider what he would say.  Toward the end, he even became quite philosophical about our chosen topic.

Here is that conversation . . . . . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:    You are a pianist with a huge interest in new music.  Are you also a composer?

Pierre-Laurent Aimard:    [Emphatically]  Not at all!  I’ve never composed, but I am extremely interested in composition, so I’ve always looked for the contact with composers.

BD:    When did you first get involved in new music as opposed to Bach and Chopin?

P-LA:    In fact, quite early.  I was eight or nine years old.  In Lyons, the city in France where I was born, has very good theory for twentieth century music.  I was a very young listener, so I couldn’t understand a lot for sure, but I was very impressed by a lot of music and apparatus that I could hear.  I felt that this music would play an important role in my life quite soon and later.

BD:    Why?

aimard P-LA:    I can’t explain that because I was so young.  It was most probably very intuitive, but I felt very concerned by this music, and very early I remembered I couldn’t understand how so many interpreters were so far from this music.  It seemed to me that one of the duties of an interpreter was to have permanent contact with this music, and to bring it to the large audience. 

BD:    You say that the interpreters are far from it.  Are the audiences also far from this new music?

P-LA:    Yes, but a lot of listeners are very curious, and if the interpreters could bring more information to them we could have a much larger audience.  The problem is that it is not easy at all have a lot of information about new music.  The problem is how to bring this information to the audience, not only via interpretations, but also information concerning the style and content of the music, the different languages today, and all the problems that you can find in this music.  We have to try to create a different kind of balance for those who are interested in other musical fields, to know this music, to enjoy it, and to have some familiarity with this music.

BD:    When you come to a piece of music and you see the problems, you must address all these problems.  Do you always solve all of the problems?

P-LA:    No.  There are a lot of problems that don’t have to be solved, of course.  But for a lot of people who have few experiences of making contact with creators of their period, what is a so strange is that a piece has not a lot of keys that allow them to be in contact with it.  Even to go to the mystery of the pieces means it has to be explained.  I can judge for myself, for instance, and I can enjoy much more from the music if I get the chance to be closer to the language, or to some strange part of this music.  It’s one of our duties to try to participate to this action.

BD:    You participate.  Does the audience also participate?

P-LA:    Oh, yes.  I am very pleased to say that if they make the effort to make this music come alive, then a lot of people are very enthusiastic.  If they see that you try to make this music clear and make an effort to communicate with a level of quality, they can understand.  I don’t just make demagoguery; I play without pretension.  If you go to people with a face of a big doctorate in music, and use a language that is as complicated as this music is, it has no sense.  But if you try really to communicate with quality and with simplicity, then a lot of people are interested to go to this music.  We live in a time when it’s very easy to get very sophisticated astral-physical knowledge about how some animals live in Australia
how they organize their food or their sexual lifeyet it is not easy at all to go the music that some composers make today.  They are so alive, and they make such interesting things, so let’s make it clear.

BD:    Is it your responsibility to make it clear, or is it the composer’s responsibility to write clear music?

P-LA:    I think both functions are important.  The composer writes his Utopia, and we are the interpreters.  We make the communication between the temple and the city.

BD:    You’re the bridge?

P-LA:    Yes.

BD:    Is it always a nice bridge, or is it sometimes too complicated?

P-LA:    It’s sometimes hard work, but working is interesting in life.  Sometimes the communication is not easy because a composer leaves the society behind.  The composer is a creator, and we, the musical society, walks behind, and we must be quick enough so that it will not take centuries to enjoy the pieces that have been composed.  It’s better for everybody, and the composer will be much less alone. 

BD:    Are you part teacher?

P-LA:    Yes, I love very much to teach.

BD:    Good, but I meant when you’re playing a concert, are you part teacher?

P-LA:    Maybe also, but I do not wear too-thick glasses as I play the piano.  The concert has to be also a celebration, and there are a lot of aspects.  I am not just the emcee.  We have to be aware of the deep dimension of the function of the art.  It’s not just acoustical entertainment; it should be much better than that.  But it not just a very serious doctoral thing among very serious people.  It has a lot of aspects.

BD:    Where’s the balance between the art and the entertainment?

P-LA:    It depends on the pieces, the repertoire we have to play.  Some of them have a lot of genius inside.  Some of them a lot of speculation, and there is a different balance between the dimensions of the art and of the music.  It’s a question of the period of the composer, and of the work itself.  A part of our job
if I can call it thatis to find the right balance.  A piece can have a big, deep significanceartistic or philosophicalon the language, and it can be extremely nice and extremely festive.  Great pieces will have a lot of aspects. 

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    You play mostly contemporary music, but do you also play Romantic and Classical music?

aimard P-LA:    Yes, I play a lot of them.  I was always very much interested in our time and in our century as far as it is a part of our culture.  The present moment is very interesting in itself, but it’s very interesting if we have all the dimensions, all the levels of heritage.  This is a dynamic direction that we are living, with our eyes being on the future, but we don’t know what will be the future.  So also it’s very interesting to stay alive in the history, in the past.

BD:    Do you approach music of the previous century differently than you approach the music of this century?

P-LA:    Yes and no, because I would love to dream about it without being surrounded by music of the past.  I would love to try to create the repertoire of music that is very fresh, very alive, as it was when it was originally written by people who were alive, and not be a prisoner of a lot attitudes that could make it very ceremonial, and not really always very fresh.

BD:    Are you trying to strip away a lot of this extra stuff, and get right back to the music?

P-LA:    Yes, to the basic significance of the music, and to the ideas that it can have today for the people of our period.  In the theater we see how to come to the same pieces again and again with different points of view because the world is changing, because the culture is always in motion.  So we can give again and again significance to these pieces.  We musicians have the same duty, and that means we try to find new life for a piece
not because we want to be iconoclasts or avant-gardists, or not because we try to shock or to find new markets, but because it is a necessity if you want to find the life and the significance of these pieces.  This is the way not just of staying alive, but of staying deep and staying true in the way of looking at pieces of art.  So therefore half of the answer to your question was yes.  But no, also, because if you receive a piece of new music, there are a lot of questions that are new because a composer creates a language today.  He has a very original universe of sounds, and is really alone in the world of today.  So then if you discover this music, you will have to create a lot of things in your interpretation to find the right sounds, to find the way of speaking this language, to find the syntax, to find gestures, to find a way of communicating to the audience and so on.  It is a lot of work.  Maybe you will not do to make the same type of work for music of the past in terms of styles that you have been used to.

BD:    Because the audience is familiar with it, and you are familiar with it?

P-LA:    Yes, because you have got a lot of information.  You have listened to these works a lot, and you have also most probably worked the styles and this type of style.  But on the other hand, you will have problem with works of the past if you do not want to be a prisoner of all this conformity that is around these pieces.  So maybe the goal would be the same, and the way to get to this goal would be different.  On the one hand, to have a kind of fresh attitude [approach] maybe will be easier with works of today, but to have a whole good interpretation with a good attitude in all the musical dimensions will be harder because you have to create all the aspects of the interpretation.  But then maybe it will help you to create healthy dimensions in the music of the past, so it’s a kind of circle.  Everything is connected to the others.

BD:    Is it the interpreter’s job to bring that circle around, and to close the circle?

P-LA:    Yes, but not just a job, it’s a passion.  It is the highest work of life every day.

BD:    Then let me ask a really easy question.  What is the purpose of music? 

P-LA:    [Chuckles]  Oh!  I would certainly not have answers to this question because I’m not a philosopher trying to speak of music.  I hope that I try to answer this question every day.  Maybe if I am very pretentious, I feel that something pushes me to make more music every day.  What makes it all so interesting is that there are different answers.  It depends with which music you work, from what period, and what circle or movement in the history of art, and with which creator.  We have to try and answer very strongly this question if we want not just the good interpretation, but the good attitude to interpretation.  Sometimes you play a light, nice, fantasized piece of music with the same attitude as music charged with deep, philosophic problems.  At the moment when you find the way to solve these problems
even if you are deep and very good at itit will be the completely wrong interpretation.  We’ve always got to adapt our attitude to the music we are playing.  This is why the interpreter has such an interesting jobto use the term once more. 

BD:    So you look at the piece, and you work with it, and get your interpretation down.  Is there only one way to play any piece, or are there many ways?

aimard P-LA:    There are many ways, and this is why it is interesting to hear the same piece with a lot of interpreters.  Not that this one is better or this one is the best, but because a piece of art contains a lot of richness, and interpretation can bring a light to a part of it.  It moves with the culture of a society, and it also moves with the whole being of the interpreter.  It depends on the works because there are works where one faces one truth, and there are works which have different levels of richness.  Among these different levels of richness are some that are bound with the epoch of the moment of culture and society, and others which are much more constant and are important throughout history.  Of course history is moving, so in this case you will bring the significance of this level in different ways in different moments of history.  Therefore some pieces could have interpretations, but they must have different interpretations so that you could discover the different level of richness which will stay for a long time.

BD:    Is it different at all if a piece of music has a lot of expression marks in the score, or a lot of detailed writing, as opposed to one which is basically a clean score that lets you get on with the interpretation?

P-LA:    That is a very important question, a very good question, and a very big problem.  [Thinks a moment]  It is a hard question.  It seems to me that there are two aspects in this question.  One aspect is the problem of what can or must be written, or given, as information so that the language can be transmitted, and what it means to us in some music so that we can really appreciate the language.  We suffer centuries later that we sometimes don’t get enough information, especially in the case of music from far away, such as ethnic music.  Then it is much more tragic because it is the problem of the culture around the composition.  In some cases, some information is so obvious that it makes no sense to put it in the score, but also it’s the problem of the bond between written music and non-written music, between fixed music and improvised music, or partly-improvised music, or decoration and ornamentation, and in fact all the ways to take a text and make more than what is in this text.  I have spoken about ornamentation and improvisation, and dynamics, and also all the parts of the interpretation concerning the time, the tempi, rubatos which are not written, and also the feelings.  For instance, in the nineteenth century they began to write a lot of feelings in the score, or suggestions for what is empirical in the interpretation.  We could have much more, so why do we have so few?  All these aspects are very important, and if some information is missed we can be sad about that.  In fact, very often the interpretation exists because the music is alive around the text, or begins at the text and goes on.  That means the field of interpretation exists on a larger scale.  Very often today we have interpretation as just playing the text with quality and with engagement, but also an attitude that is very much dictated by a kind of conformism.  Now, the second part of your question is if there are a lot of marks.  For instance, Mahler’s symphonies demonstrate what is maybe one of the examples where you get the largest quantity of marks for a lot of dimensions, not just technique.  Then what’s interesting is to see that even if you get conductors who respect very much these indications, you can get very different interpretations.  If you listen to records of Bruno Walter or Klemperer, you have interpreters who are so close to the truth, so close to the composer and to the tradition and the text, but both of them are symbols of contrary interpretation.  So this is maybe the fairest example of what the problem can be.

BD:    Are we perhaps introducing a new joker into this because we are leaving recordings for the next generations that have been supervised by the composer?

P-LA:    This is true.  Maybe I should take from the experience of working with the composers, and try to catch what is truth.  Is it the truth for them, and until which point what is truth for them?  Even if I would religiously say the composer is the truth and always has the truth, I have to be honest and see that this truth has a lot variability.  Because a composer is always a source of fantastic information, we have to have a lot of respect for him, but some of them have a very precise idea of what they have written, or what they want, and some others not that much.

BD:    So there some that get in the way of their own music?

P-LA:    [Laughs]  Maybe there are different truths in a piece!  Some composers are happy only in exceptional circumstances, while others may be delighted in too many circumstances.  Then the question is about the image they have of their piece.  Is it exactly the image that a regular listener, or another musician, should have so that he will receive approximately the same ideas?  It seems to me that a composer who has his own world inside, and who hears a piece a thousand times during the composition, will have maybe a quite different way to hear the piece.  We have to keep that in our judgment, not for having good reasons for making a half-hearted interpretation, but for trying to have a quite acute but very open
though not too tolerantidea of what the truth could be.  It seems to me that I am answering a previous question of yours by saying that even if a composer has a very strong idea of what he wants, two very interpreters, if they are good and if they have worked a lot, could bring to him two different interpretations that could bring him high satisfaction.

BD:    Both would be equally valid?

P-LA:    It seems to me.  Maybe he will like one interpreter more, but I am convinced about that.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Do you have any advice for composers who want to write for the piano these days, either as solo or in ensemble?

P-LA:    No, it would be pretentious for me.  Maybe in the daily life the interpreter can have some advice concerning details or realization problems, and for sure a collaboration can always help.  But basically and in general, I don’t think so.  Composers have the ability with their power of creation to transform an instrument, to take an instrument as it is and with a heritage, and then to create a way of writing for this instrument that makes the instrument sound while being played completely another way.  That’s their power.  This is creation, and the interpreter has nothing to do with that.  I could just maybe give some classes advice because I know what has been written up till now.  As to new composers, I am fascinated by them.  Maybe, because of our experience, we can carry with us a certain tradition in the use gestures of playing an instrument.  Then when a new composer comes, and if he’s very creative, then he creates a new gesture, and it will be a new ideal for us.  Then after a moment, we shall be able maybe have some new kinds of reality with these gestures, and after a bit of time they will be part of our tradition of transmission.  This is the way of life.

aimard BD:    Then it becomes part of our collective heritage?

P-LA:    Exactly!

BD:    I assume that composers are beating down your door asking you to play their scores.  How do you decide on which ones you will spend time, and which ones you will discard?

P-LA:    It’s very hard.  The problem is that there are not so many interpreters who are really involved in the music of their time.  This is really a euphemism, so we have a lot of work and responsibility.  Unfortunately, people who are engaged with this music have to refuse too much music compared with what they would like to do.  But we have to do that because if we try to play as much contemporary music as possible, then you become the ‘specialist’ by accident.  You try to play everything, and you commission every composer, but then I’m afraid you could then become a kind of supermarket of the recent music, and it is not the best thing to do.  It’s hard to make choices, to keep contact with the heritage, and to keep contact with different activities that we have to have as interpreters... and also with teaching, which is very important today.  So your question was how to choose.  [Thinks a moment]  I make a kind of balance sheet, an analysis of what I’ve done.  I’m not very prudish about what I play.  I had very good intentions, and I was maybe quite egoistic.  [Laughs]  I would love to say that it’s important to try to be in contact with major creative forces of your time
different streams, different composers, young composers, and so on.  It’s very utopic if you want to work deeply, and by the end you have very good contact with some creators, because we are human persons.

BD:    [With a gentle nudge]  You mean you’re not machines???

P-LA:    [Laughs]  There are contacts that work well, and it is so interesting to follow somebody closely.  It’s an important part of our activity, and it’s very, very interesting just to follow a composer as far as he has chosen to go.  In a lot of circumstances you can follow his good moments in creativity, as well as his crisis moments, and all the aspects of the bridge between the composer and society.  That means to wait for the creation, to be there when the creation doesn’t come, and then to be there when it comes.  Then you forge, step by step, an interpretation, bringing your force and your independence, but also being very receptive to the composers’ force.  Then you make an interpretation come alive.  That means to play it here and there in the world, to try to bring into the programs, and to make good programs around these new pieces.  We must also have good politics for recordings, not just in terms of quality, but in terms of presence of the composers in this world.  This is because composers need really not to be forgotten.  They are very alone.  We spoke in other parts of our conversation about how to teach the pieces to young professionals and to the audience, and how also to use the different ways of expression
such as discs, the radio and television, and how to create different types of events so that this creation can be alive.  That means, unfortunately, you have to refuse to play a lot of pieces, but that doesn’t mean that you refuse to know them, to try to understand them, to play them for yourself or to be informed.  That means to be able to speak about this and that composer, and to participate in the community of new music.

BD:    Would you like to clone yourself so that you could have several different pianists out there doing several different repertoires?

P-LA:    There are a lot of very, very interesting interpreters on this earth, so it’s not necessary to clone myself.  However, that is the nightmare, yes, to clone an interpreter.  The dream is to have interpreters with very different personalities being interested traditional music, baroque music, ancient music, ethnic music, improvised music, contemporary music, and so on.  But, for contemporary music we don’t have enough.  There is still a lot of work, and maybe some colleagues could make a bit more effort.  Also very famous colleagues who could help so much.  Some of them do it, but there are not a lot. 

BD:    Is there competition amongst pianists?

P-LA:    That happens by chance.  There is a competition among all human persons on all the earth, and in all aspects of life.  Fortunately we can take the good part of it, which means the stimulating part that makes it interesting can be very healthy, as long as we are respectful of our common life.  We can learn so much from each other, and there is a lot of place for creating and for using the abilities of creation in a lot of different ways.  So there is a lot of place for a lot of people.

BD:    Do you play differently for the live audience than you do for the microphone for recordings?

P-LA:    Yes!

BD:    How and why?

P-LA:    First of all, if I play for the microphone, there is just one microphone.  [Laughs]  The moment of the recording is totally different from the moment with the audience.  That onstage appointment is very short duration, and has all the symbolism of that place.  Also in music, hearing a recording is totally different.  It’s another way of perception, another function, another way of tasting the music of cultivating yourself.

BD:    Is it further removed from the interpreter because of the time-shift?

P-LA:    Yes.  You choose yourself the moment at home to hear it, and you use the recording as you want.  Perhaps there is a part of it that you want to hear fifty times, the same moment with or without friends, with the sun on the beach, in your car, and so on.  That means, of course, that the communication is not the same.  What you can accept on stage with the physical presence, with the gesture, the spatial magic of the moment of the stage is not the same as what you can accept in the recording in terms of faults
not just the wrong notes, but the stylistic faults.  These become are exaggerated.  Also there is the realizing and projecting the sensibility and different dimensions of the work.  For instance, how can you realize a good polyphonic phrase on stage in a big space?  To make that understandable and alive and leading in the space, you may sometimes have to adjust or even force some aspects of the polyphony.  Maybe sometimes this will be much too much when listening to it on a recording.  The same goes for the form and for the dramaturgy, and so on.  So if you want it to work, it’s a question of what is communication in these two very different musical manifestations.  You can do a lot of research on both of these aspects.  Of course there are some interpreters who are better on stage, and others who are better for the recording.  What is very interesting is not to say one likes concerts and not recordings, or this is much better than that, but considering that they are two aspects of the making the music and realizing the music.  It’s very interesting to see how we can realize the facts of the interpretation in both of these.

BD:    Have them both side by side? 

P-LA:    Yes.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Are you pleased with where you are at this point in your career?

aimard P-LA:    I’m very happy at the moment because I can realizeor try to realizethe different aspects of musical activity that I want to try to do to consolidate my life as an interpreter.  That means close collaboration with composers, both great masters, or young composers of my generation or younger; playing the previous music of this century; being in contact with the music of different moments of our history; trying to play, to teach, to make concert lectures and introductions for the large audience to different aspects of music; recording, and also making special products for the radio and television.  So I want to try to use the different possibilities that we have today to make the music more alive and more significant.  I’m very happy also because I have a fantastic chance to work with marvelous musicians.  This is suddenly the deepest joy in the life of a musician.  I get to meet a lot of people having all kinds of richness, but I’ve got the chance to be in contact with a lot of composerswhom I consider as the most interesting musical peopleand this has brought me a lot of deep joys in life, and maybe it opens a lot of avenues in the way of living the music.  Music is a very rich way of living life, and trying to live and know, and to experiment becomes much larger than what the institution shows us apparently at the first contact.  The simpler path is a very respectful way, of course, very rich and interesting, but quite narrow in comparison with what music can give us.  So if life brings you the chance to get a lot of experiences, so that it seems that every day brings you to a richer way to enjoy and experiment with music, that is the best thing you can hope in the life of music. 

BD:    Where’s music going today?

P-LA:    Generally speaking I have absolutely no idea.  I must be sincere.  Sometimes people think I am a specialist in twentieth-century music, and I feel absolutely comfortable with this judgment.  But I am interested to answer you knowing, however, quite a lot of things concerning recent music, yet not that much because even if you are interested in something, and taking in all this information, there’s so much in the world.  You can never know everything.  You are just informed about a part of it.  I am interested to see that you have, very often, the same kind of answer in a lot of fields
sciences, the state of the world, politics, economics.  I am extremely interested and even happy to live in this moment of the world, even if I am extremely worried and anxious about all the dangers of this period.  We have to take the good part of it, be constructive and participate in this exceptional moment when the world is going so fast, and where the mutation so unbelievable.

BD:    Tell me a bit about Ligeti.  Is he pleased with what you have done with his music?  Have you made suggestions to him?  Does he make suggestions to you?

P-LA:    For me he’s one of the strongest and greatest composers today.  A lot of people think the same way, but above all that, his creation is a very strong example of being in phase with his epoch, while staying completely original, staying completely freely himself always.  He is also a very strong example of having deep strong roots in the history of making the arts, and also looking at the future.  So to have the chance to work with him for more than ten years, and to have the privilege to be chosen as interpreter for his music was, of course, a very, very strong and fantastic chance in my life.  I should say that I loved very much his connection because the artistic experience has been extremely radical and strong.  The human connection has been always very healthy.  This is somebody who wants very much from an interpreter, and if he’s not satisfied, he will tell it very clearly.  [Laughs]  But even if he doesn’t do it very diplomatically, he always has the courage to do it in any case, and this shows full of courage from a composer who is sometimes very famous, but who is not a powerful person in this society.  He speaks that way to any kind of person in front of him
even very famous or powerful personsthis is very healthy.  Even if it is not always very diplomatic, at least you can know exactly what he wants.  So I find this part of his personality very healthy, and I like that.  I know that he can always be very hard, even with people who are very close to him, even with friends, but I know that if he’s satisfied with the playing, I can be okay with myself and with my playing.  I like that.

BD:    You’ve recorded some of his works?

P-LA:    I’ve recorded all his work concerning the piano in the Ligeti Edition for Sony Classical, except the Piano Concerto that I had recorded before with the Ensemble InterContemporain and Boulez for Deutsche Grammophon.  This was a very strong experience because we have prepared it all very much for years and years.  It was also interesting because Ligeti was very concerned with this records because this was a kind of testament.  So he has asked a lot for that, and given a lot. 

BD:    Has he ever asked too much?

P-LA:    Concerning my experience, never. 

BD:    Could you speak about Messiaen?

aimard P-LA:    Oh, with pleasure.  It will be very warm because I got the chance to know him when I was twelve years old.  I became a student of Yvonne Loriod, and the fact was that the couple had gotten married a couple of years before, and had no children.  So I was in a situation not to be a kind of half- adopted child, but a very close thing to that.  They were marvelously generous with me.  They took me on tours, to rehearsals, classes, everything that could happen.  When I was a very young man, I could hear Messiaen improvising.  He held extra classes for me, analyzing the pieces I was playing.  It was a musical dream.  I think my mother-language is music.  In fact, what I loved and admired and appreciated so much with him
apart from this personal storywas his exceptional ability to hear, and to perceive the people he would meet.  That made him such a great pedagogue.  He had a way of being able to have the patience and the ability to understand others, and to have the transparency for reading the soul of somebody just by being here.  That’s all, and that was something marvelous, really.  By the same token, he was a very strong personality.  In the case of great creators who are often very strong personalities, it doesn’t seem that a lot of them have this ability.  He was very exceptional.

BD:    One last question.   Is playing the piano fun?

P-LA:    Oh, yes!  [Laughs]  It’s a lot of things, and it’s what you do with them.  I will again be very sincere.  I don’t especially like the piano.  I like it because it is a very interesting instrument, and because it’s my instrument, but I like other instruments as well.  It’s my way of realizing something, but I have no religion for the instrument itself, or for playing the piano.

BD:    Your religion is music?

P-LA:    Music, yes.  This is what is so interesting.  Music is great, but it is a key for a larger way of being in contact with what we’re living.  Playing the piano is easy because you have just to touch the instrument to get a sound.  That is much easier than the violin.  Playing the piano is fun because you can play a lot of songs and a lot of repertoire, and you know a lot of situations.  That means you can play polyphony, harmony, orchestral reductions, and so on.  You have lot of periods, and a lot of styles, and so a lot of attitude.  You have a huge repertory.  You have never tears because your repertory is too small.  You can be a soloist, a chamber musician, an accompanist for singers, choir repetiteur in an opera, a member of a group for recent music or for classical music, and so on.  This is without ending, so it’s a good way to know how rich and flexible the musical action can be.  It’s a very open instrument, so that’s fun!

BD:    You’ve made friends with it even though you don’t like it?

P-LA:    I like it, but it’s not an icon for me.  If you travel a lot, you are constantly in contact with people if you want to be.  What’s very interesting is if you work with that.  In fact, we are in contact with all of what is around music, or what is supposed to be around music.  For instance, making an interview, or thinking about music, or organizing concerts, or making all of what is supposed to be under the music but is a part of the musical world.  Then you are in contact when making the music, with listeners and also with colleagues.  When you share the music, then you discover that sharing music is the most marvelous thing in the world.  However, in the cold light of day you also discover that music can be a very common thing, or a very banal thing sometimes.  In fact, you will meet in the music world all the aspects of life
the most conformist, the lowest on the human point of view, and even the most disappointing sometimes.  But by chance, also, you will find the most marvelous facets without borders, the most mystical, the most answers — especially in chamber music, where you have the ideal feel for everything.  It’s a very beautiful way for having very strong experiences and connections with other persons that you couldn’t have in other circumstances.  Sometimes it even happens very quickly, so after two hours of sight-reading of chamber music, suddenly you discover that you are at marvelous deep levels of communication with somebody, and that you have often discovered new ideas through discussions.

BD:    Are you coming back to Chicago?

P-LA:    I don’t know.  I hope so.  The city’s very interesting, really.  I would like to be here one day again with the orchestra.

BD:    Thank you for all the music you have given us so far.

P-LA:    Thank you so much for your patience and your very good questions.


© 1998 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on May 4, 1998.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB three weeks later, and on WNUR in 2003 and 2013.  This transcription was made in 2017, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.