Pierre-Laurent Aimard on Coughs, Ringtones and Wrappers

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Hot tip for concert-goers who buy tickets to a Pierre-Laurent Aimard recital: pack that extra cough drop.

On Monday, the French pianist spoke with WQXR’s Jeff Spurgeon about his thoughtful if sometimes aggressively brainy concert programs that juxtapose pieces from different styles and eras. The subject turned to audiences, and the familiar distractions a performer endures.

"Cell phones or coughs are terrible,” said the pianist in a burst of candor. "In some cases the coughs are not controlled because it's just laziness or sometimes a bit of arrogance maybe."

He said that New York audiences are a mixed bag, but when their coughs are not muffled, "it’s acoustically very loud, it has nothing to do with the music and disturbs enormously."

Aimard added that sometimes he'll politely remind an audience to exercise restraint. "Other times, if you play in a country where making phone calls during the concert is something a little more normal, then you would disturb more the listeners [by stopping] than if you go on."

Judging by reviews, Aimard has had some bad luck in New York. In 2007, a performance with the New York Philharmonic was momentarily disrupted by uninhibited coughs, candy wrappers and a ringtone, causing Aimard to pause for several long moments between movements of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3. Two years later, an Alice Tully Hall recital appeared to be an even more unruly, with ringtones and several bouts of loud hacking that apparently caused him to lose his place in the score. 

Spurgeon asked Aimard whether he ever felt there were times when an audience was frustrated and uncomprehending of what he was trying to say — alluding to one San Francisco reviewer who questioned a challenging program that juxtaposed Kurtág, Schumann and Liszt.

“They are not cerebral programs," Aimard asserted, saying that every program idea starts on a gut, emotional level. "If you include the cerebral element in a program with composers who thought of what they were doing, then you are accused of being an intellectual. Well, yes, I also think about what I do, of course, but they are not cerebral programs. I’ve thought about the programs. I’ve worked on them, I’ve formed them, I try to find a dramaturgy and then I try to help the audience to share that with me and why these pieces work together.”

What do you think of Aimard's comments on audience etiquette? Listen to the interview above and please share your thoughts: