Three great artists, one brilliant composer – this season, the Piano chamber music series is all about Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach himself was a phenomenal “clavier” player who, with imagination and a zest for experimentation, knew how to fully exploit the capabilities of the keyboard instruments of his day. His piano works, which have been an inexhaustible source of inspiration for generations of pianists, are among the greatest challenges for performers. Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Kit Armstrong and Evgeni Koroliov will appear in the chamber music hall this season to present their perspective on Bach’s piano works. One thing connects these three very different pianists: The music itself takes precedence over artistic ego and instrumental prowess.
Pierre-Laurent Aimard entered the public sphere as an interpreter of Bach very late. The Frenchman, a student of Olivier Messiaen’s wife Yvonne Loriod, built his reputation as an outstanding pianist in the repertoire of Modern and Contemporary music. Also in concerts of the Berliner Philharmoniker, with whom Aimard has worked together artistically for almost 15 years and whose Pianist in Residence he was in 2006/2007, the public experienced him primarily as a performer of new music. For Aimard, Bach is an “ultimate composer”, who he wanted to approach with artistic maturity. In 2008, at the age of 51, he ventured his first Bach recording: the Art of Fugue, for which he received great recognition. This is now followed by the Well Tempered Clavier, which Aimard worked on intensively during a Fellowship at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin.
The “child prodigy”
From the very beginning, Bach’s compositions played a significant role in the repertoire of Kit Armstrong’s young career. An American of Taiwanese descent, he started playing piano because his mother wanted a creative balance for her mathematically gifted son. She could not have realised that the then five-year-old had not only a mathematical, but also a great pianistic talent. This talent proved to be so outstanding that Alfred Brendel became his mentor and took the young musician under his wing. In September 2013, Armstrong’s first solo CD was released with chorale preludes by Johann Sebastian Bach, György Ligeti’s Musica ricercata and a composition of his own, the Fantasia on B.A.C.H. The chorale preludes and the Musica ricercata are also included in his Philharmoniker debut recital programme. Armstrong described Ligeti’s music in an interview as intelligent, but not “intellectual in a negative sense,” and would therefore harmonize perfectly with the musical language of the Baroque masters.
Ligeti in turn was one of the great admirers of the pianist Evgeni Koroliov, and the Hungarian composer held his recording of Bach’s Art of Fugue in the highest regard. Koroliov, a student of Anna Artobolevsky, Heinrich Neuhaus and Maria Yudina, has been fascinated by Johann Sebastian Bach since he was seven years of age, and is considered one of the great Bach interpreters of our time. More than almost anyone else, he understands how to bring to the fore the different facets of Bach’s complex music, its profundity, intimacy, virtuosity and brilliance. “In Bach’s music, I can hear the laws that the universe may be built on,” is his credo.