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MAINTENANCE | Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Messiaen and the Love of Birds

Pierre-Laurent Aimard, pianist. (Photo: Julie Wesel)

An unusual and fascinating musical adventure will take place at the Festival international de Lanaudière this weekend: Pierre-Laurent Aimard interprets the entire bird catalog by Olivier Messiaen in four recitals.

Contacted by telephone in Berlin, the pianist tells us about this project and his relationship with the great French composer.

The last time that Pierre-Laurent Aimard came to Quebec, he played Bartok’s Concerto No. 1 with the OSM at the Maison symphonique, a striking performance.

LVM: “You studied with Yvonne Loriod, who was Messiaen’s wife and to whom he rightly dedicated this Catalog of birds. These are already good reasons to interpret this cycle, which you have recorded, but you surely have other reasons.

Pierre-Laurent Aimard: “I believe this is a momentous cycle in the history of the piano and in the history of music in general, for several reasons. However, it is not very present on the stages, especially as a whole. It is almost never given in its entirety, and I find it important to give it. First, it is a piano monument. There is here a writing for the instrument which has a virtuosity and a coloring which are completely specific and original, and which have a great evocative power for the listener.

Next, it’s a work rooted in the 1950s, which are avant-garde years, and it’s a work in a very personal language and aesthetic, but which are eminently avant-garde, because the language is completely new, the source is completely new. We have never written music entirely inspired or based on music from nature, with constant songs that are not songs, and with forms that also come from nature and not from human culture. So we have a kind of creative audacity, research on timbre, on time, on acoustics with sound situations, as well as an integration of silence as a musical component. This makes it a very innovative work.

It is also a very prophetic work since it is a hymn to nature. In making a catalog of bird songs there is a methodological, almost scientific desire to make a group of representatives of nature heard. However, we know what has happened to nature since then, and in particular to birds. Ornithologists tell us that today we can no longer hear a third of the birds that sing in these catalogues. It is a work which, as testimony and as announcement, today takes on an important meaning. I notice that audiences these days are more deeply moved by the work than they were a few decades ago. »

LVM: each bird also represents a French province?

Pierre-Laurent Aimard: “Indeed, there is a desire to bring together, in a landscape, a certain number of participating birds, so as to characterize the pieces which, even if they are based on the same principle, are of an extraordinary variety. »

LVM: according to the festival program, it seems that you have changed the order of the pieces?

Pierre-Laurent Aimard: ” Yes and no. Yes, if you are talking about the order of publication, but the order of publication is not necessarily the order of performance because these are not works that were designed for the traditional post-romantic concert ritual. Their form, their dramaturgy does not correspond to this framework, and all of these pieces, which constitute a corpus of two and a half hours, are not at all intended for the proportions of the traditional concert. That’s why I’m proposing a particular event that is split in time, and makes us travel through time, through the day, as the plays invite us to do. It’s to find a form for this set of pieces – which is not really a cycle, moreover – that better corresponds to his spirit and to make the journey through time that this catalog is felt, in other words a kind of ordering listening to nature by humans. »

LVM: you knew and rubbed shoulders with Messiaen well. Can you tell us about it? What impressed you the most about him?

Pierre-Laurent Aimard: “I’ve known him since I was 12, so since 1969, so it’s a long journey. What has always struck me about him is his inner peace. He was a very peaceful being. And his ability to listen. Acoustic phenomena, of course, but also humans, and that’s what made him a great teacher. He was someone who had a very striking ability to observe, by hearing. He was very attentive to people. »

LVM: are you, yourself, a lover of nature, animals, the forest?

Pierre-Laurent Aimard: “Like any human being, yes, I am connected to nature. Originally, my first walks of observation in nature and particularly ornithological observation, I owe them to Messiaen, because to try to understand these catalogs of birds and to play them well, I tried to do what he’s done so many times. And what I have observed is that nature dictates another time for us, another time for listening. A time based on patience. Sometimes we have to wait a very long time for a bird song. And also, a time based on the unexpected, because you never know who will sing, when, and from which direction. It’s a type of listening that is not at all what we have in our Western habits.

From this point of view, Messiaen teaches us a lot to listen. Nature invites us to observe, to meditate and there again, at that time we are much less active and proactive listeners than when we listen to other music. When you go into nature, you never know what will happen and what you will hear, but when you decide to go and listen to this or that symphony, it is a choice, and you know in what type of form or dramaturgy you are going to expose yourself. You have to have some form of acceptance. Besides, the best audience I had for the Catalog of birds was not a traditional concert audience, but the public present in a bird sanctuary, with observers who made walks. They immediately understood the meaning of this music, and how to listen to it. I found it to be an ideal audience. »

LVM: would you like to add a word of conclusion?

Pierre-Laurent Aimard: “I’m happy to meet an audience that agrees to come at odd hours to experience a musical adventure. The stage is not a place for routine and cultural demagoguery, it is a place for discovery and adventure, sometimes daring. To see that people are ready to share this, it touches me a lot. »

Schedule of recitals by Pierre-Laurent Aimard at the Fernand-Lindsay Amphitheater:

Recital 1: Friday, July 22, 10 p.m.. Before the concert, starting at 8 p.m., there is a screen projection of birdsong, followed by a musical nap with the harp. DETAILS AND TICKETS

Recital 2: Saturday July 23, 8 a.m. Breakfast, coffee and pastries, from 7 a.m. DETAILS AND TICKETS

Recital 3: Saturday July 23, 2 p.m. Musical trail walk offered after the concert. DETAILS AND TICKETS

Recital 4: Saturday July 23, 8 p.m. DETAILS AND TICKETS

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