A piano-playing lion from Lyon, France, is set wild this season

Whenever the French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard comes here to play wild, or at least spectacularly complex, 20th- or 21st-century music in a solo recital or with an orchestra, the hall is filled. He's a magnet for people who either want to find out for the first time how strongly this music can grip them, or who know damn well and want more of it. True, both types—the healthily curious and the ex-virginal—are heavily outnumbered by those die-hard conservatives who couldn't care less about post-Brahms, but why waste time searching for weapons of mass musical illiteracy? That's a job for the classical-music industry and music schools, many of which are ominously called "conservatories."

Aside from Aimard's eminence in music of our time, as well as in music of our grandparents' time, he's no ghettoized modernist. One of his successful recording projects saw him perform all five of Beethoven's published piano concertos with that pioneer of the pre-baroque, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, conducting the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. But Aimard is a 47-year-old native of Lyon, a city newly celebrated for its adventurous opera and ballet theater and for a symphony orchestra reinvigorated by the progressive American conductor David Robertson (with whom Aimard often performs). And the pianist certainly thrived in Paris as a student of Yvonne Loriod, the second wife and constant inspiration of Olivier Messiaen, whose music has figured so electrifyingly in Aimard's career.

Aimard's Herculean performance of Messiaen's two-hour Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant Jesus in Zankel Hall last December still thrills in the memory of probably everyone who was there. He returns to that new cellarage under Carnegie Hall this May 17 for his first New York recital of American music. He'll play Elliott Carter's Night Fantasies, a vertiginously refocusing atonal dreamscape, prefaced by two little diversions Carter wrote for Carnegie's Millennium Piano Book. Then comes Charles Ives's huge, often granitic "Concord" Sonata, which salutes history as if to scare the hell out of it.

Pierre-Laurent Aimard, May 17, Zankel Hall, Seventh Avenue and 56th Street, 212.247.7800


'L'ITALIANA IN ALGERI'
March 4, 11, and 17
Metropolitan Opera House, Columbus Avenue and 64th Street, 212.362.6000

Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's witty production of Rossini's virtuosic comedy gets a first-class revival with James Levine conducting a lively cast that features Olga Borodina and Juan Diego Flórez as the glamorous lovers.


'DON GIOVANNI'
March 5, 9, 16, 20, 24, and 27, April 15, 19, 21, 24, and 28, May 1 and 7 (got all that, readers?); March 13 (broadcast live on WQXR, 96.3 FM)
Metropolitan Opera House, Columbus Avenue and 64th Street, 212.362.6000

Marthe Keller, one of this era's most powerful actresses, makes her Met debut directing this new production of Mozart's extremely noir comedy. The March performances are conducted by the masterly James Levine, with Thomas Hampson in the title role and the equally charismatic Rene Pape as his clever servant. For the later performances, Andrew Davis conducts an interesting new cast.


MET CHAMBER ENSEMBLE
March 7
Weill Recital Hall, 154 West 57th Street, 212.247.7800

James Levine plays piano music by Schoenberg and joins members of the great Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in chamber pieces by Berg, Webern, Schubert, and Messiaen (the haunting "Quartet for the End of Time").


'SALOME'
March 15, 19, 23, and 31, April 3, 7, and 10; March 27 (broadcast live on WQXR, 96.3 FM)
Metropolitan Opera House, Columbus Avenue and 64th Street, 212.362.6000

However the new staging of Richard Strauss's opera turns out, Karita Mattila's performance of the love-crazed royal brat should be riveting.


'DER RING DES NIBELUNGEN'
March 20, April 3, 17, and 24, all these broadcast live on WQXR, 96.3 FM; March 29, April 12, 22, 26, 27, and 29, and May 1, 3, 4, 6, and 8
Metropolitan Opera House, Columbus Avenue and 64th Street, 212.362.6000

Check the season's schedule or this phone number for individual operas in the tetralogy. James Levine con-ducts his magnificent orchestra in all the performances, and, among otherwise varying casts, James Morris sings his authoritative Wotan, and Plácido Domingo his dramatic Siegmund, throughout the duration.


'ERMIONE'
April 11, 14, 17, 20, and 22
New York State Theater, 63rd Street and Broadway, 212.870.5570

City Opera tackles its first staging of Rossini's bravura tragedy.


'MILTON BABBITT RETROSPECTIVE'
April 23, with Babbitt speaking
Columbia University, Miller Theater, Broadway and 116th Street, 212.854.7799

The great explorer gets his turn in Miller's composer-portrait series. The several familiar but always new-sounding pieces on this program include the magical "Philomel," sung by Judith Bettina.


'NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC IVES-PLUS FESTIVAL'
May 11-29, mostly at Avery Fisher Hall,
Columbus Avenue and 64th Street, 212.721.6500; May 17 at Columbia University, Miller Theater, Broadway and 116th Street, 212.854.7799

Conductors David Robertson, Alan Gilbert, John Adams, and Lorin Maazel lead concerts involving Charles Ives and other composers either of his time or influenced by him to varying degrees. These include Cowell, Copland, Cage, Varèse, and Adams, among famous others. There are also discussion sessions. Check Avery Fisher Hall for precise scheduling and programs

 
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