French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, who will perform Elliott Carter's Dialogues and Stravinsky's Concerto for Piano and Winds with the New York Philharmonic, calls his attraction to contemporary music unexplainable. "I loved always the classical music, but felt a strong attraction to new music from the time I was eight years old," he says. "When I was a teenager, it was Bach and Chopin, but also Messiaen, Boulez, and Stockhausen."
As fate would have it, Mr. Aimard's early enthusiasm was buoyed by his move, at age 12, from the conservatory in his native Lyons to the Paris Conservatoire, where his teacher was Yvonne Loriod, the wife of French master composer Olivier Messiaen. "They [Loriod and Messiaen] involved me on tours with them, where I heard a lot of Messiaen premieres. It was an illuminating relationship for me."
He explains that playing new music is both "different and not different" from playing Brahms or Rachmaninoff: "It's not different, because you are still a human being in front of a masterpiece, and with your intellect and body you try to do your best so you can nourish your audience." Yet, he says, it is different, in the same way that performing Renaissance music is not like performing Romantic music.
Mr. Aimard is confident that audiences can come to share his enthusiasm for fresh sounds. He talks about the Carter work and its "marvelous fantasy" as something that is every bit as accessible as Mozart: "This is one of the big pleasures in art, the pleasure of learning. I think an important number of people are ready for that adventure."
Kenneth LaFave is a composer and writer whose credits include Opera News, Dance Magazine, Playbill, and 15 years with The Arizona Republic newspaper in Phoenix.