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Big Think Interview With Pierre-Laurent Aimard
Pierre-Laurent Aimard is a classical pianist and professor at the Paris Conservatory and the Hochschule für Musik in Cologne. Born in Lyon, France, he is widely acclaimed as a key figure in contemporary music, and has performed around the globe with the world’s major orchestras and conductors such as Pierre Boulez, Christoph von Dohnányi, Christoph Eschenbach, Daniel Harding, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Jonathan Nott, Seiji Ozawa, Sir Simon Rattle, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Franz Welser-Möst. An honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music, as of 2009 he will also serve as the Artistic Director of the Aldeburgh Festival in England.
Question: Are there any pop or rock musicians that you admire?
Pierre Laurent Aimard: I have an acoustical problem because I find that the level, the dynamic level, of proper rock concerts are so up high that I feel in danger for my ears. Physically speaking. So I try to compensate as I can and my son, Antoine, tries to make me less ignorant than I am. I had a high level of resistance when I was young. What I now do consider as a kind of narrow-minded attitude that I have, I discovered too late, that in fact you have the same problems in the pop, for instance, or in the rock, or in many musics, than in the classics. Danger of the business. The problem of the isolation of groups that are very creative and that are not often in the… Problems of the fashion and how it can kill some expression, and so on and so on. More than all probably with the relationship with the success, that means with the society in general.
So, I think that better understanding of both parts, if I can say so, somewhere can help to understand the whole mystery.
Question: Are there any skills that are shared by classical musicians and pop stars?
Pierre Laurent Aimard: Well, there are many dimensions that are comparable, for sure. The charisma, the presence on stage, the commitment, the energy, the ability for communication, dimensions of expression, understanding for our era, well probably many other dimensions. Yes definitely.
Question: What is the role of the classical musician in society?
Pierre Laurent Aimard: The so-called classical serious musicians, are supposed to be ambi-centers for what we call our classical serious culture, to transmit to new audiences and new generations a very rich heritage and to be witnesses for what happens today. So, to be servants for creators and to be able to participate to the artistic education for the next generations.
Question: What has been the traditional role of the series musician?
Pierre Laurent Aimard: Well, what one calls classical music, or serious music, or all these awful words, requires most of the time quite a high level of technical training. This is the price to pay somewhere. Not always, if you sing in a choir for instance, with a good director, you can make very good music. Sometimes with a less challenging education than if you want to play a complex polyphony with a keyboard instrument. But, as you say, there are ways to make music without the same level of discipline, and this is why we can be thankful to live in a world with a certain level of tolerance where many ways of making music, or making arts, is accepted and is feasible.
Question: What pieces have been particularly influential in your life?
Pierre Laurent Aimard: There are many. The most important probably belongs to the very first part of the ****. For instance, when my parents, as musical amateur played probably in a quite amateur way on a very modest upright piano, melodies that I still remember, or when my neighbor on the sixth floor when I went and slept at night, played as an amateur pianist, compositions by Schubert and Brahms. But I think that very important when I became a teenager the different ways to be passionate in music. This could be the way of the romantic, like Wagner with "Tristan" that has been, for me, a reason for living in music for an entire year, and learn old music by heart and could say the whole text by heart, or this could be the way of leaving creators to transform the passion in music into new aesthetics and new languages.
Question: How can we improve our appreciation of classical music?
Pierre Laurent Aimard: First of all, I'd like to say that the educational programs should be much stronger to answer to your question. And if we see – if we observed some countries that have really got some visions from musical education, like Venezuela, Japan, or Finland, we see that the answer is much easier to do. In fact, if one thinks about starting in education, it could be any kind of music. Mozart, Stravinsky, Elliott Carter, or many music from this planet, if the education is well done, this music can make sense and become familiar to anybody, and especially to young people.
Question: At what point did you know you had musical talent?
Pierre Laurent Aimard: Well, at the start, I realized that I had a passion, I would say. A talent, I had no idea, but having played a couple of notes on an upright piano at the house of a Grand-Uncle, I had felt an extremely strong attraction and a kind of necessity to play this instrument.
Question: What is your practice regiment?
Pierre Laurent Aimard: Work, work, and work. If you want to realize something, to realize it really in any discipline, you have to work enormously. Not just for competition, but for yourself, for achieving something. That's the only way. But of course, only if work makes sense. If you work on something you believe to and with the concentration and nourishing always your work with yourself and your creativity and your soul as one would say in Slavic countries.
It changed a lot because of course your relation with work is different when you have more experience. You can have a better icodemy of your work. It changes a lot also in terms of the performing arts because the performance takes a lot in itself, of time, of travels, all the parts of the activity that interferes with the discipline itself; travels, concerts, interviews, etc. So, you have to – if you intend to keep quality with what you do, you have to fight strongly for preserving the work on the discipline itself and not just on the frames. In other words, not to be a victim of your success, what one could see everyday so much with very famous, or not so famous, people. This is for me, the saddest part of mankind when somebody becomes disappointing in compare with the talents he or she had at the start. So, what can protect you, hopefully against this disease, the mirror somewhere, to try everyday to decide, this was not good enough. This is not myself enough. I'm not risky enough, or I'm too much risky. I'm not prepared enough, etc., etc. So the mirrors are from all kinds. It can be your own years, recordings, etc., can be your friends, but the true friends, the friends who say the hard truth, you know, your judges somewhere. And all the professional that can really help you to become better, or to try to become better.
Question: Do you ever doubt your talent?
Pierre Laurent Aimard: Oh, constantly. But also there is the belief. It's a mix, it's a balance. You can do nothing -- you have go the talent, you know, it's a presence. Well, it's a gift of God, would say people who believe in God, or it's in your chemical structure you would say if you are the sum or the neurologist what I am. The only thing you can do is to work on the best way possible with this talent, or to honor this talent, I could say. So, this is what I try to do, sometimes I have the feeling that I succeed, often that I don't.
As I think that life is a permanent challenge to try to develop yourself the best way you can, very often I think that's the challenges I have chosen, for me, are too high maybe, or are not the right challenges. And then I don't. But then I think I have a lot of obstination. So I go on and on and ahead, and sometimes it works. But of course, it's a permanent fight with yourself.
Question: Why do audiences shy away from less familiar works?
Pierre Laurent Aimard: Well, it's the story of mankind. With many dimensions in life, it's the same and one can understand familiarity brings security, a peaceful feeling. Well, of course, too much security kills a dimension in humans and too much protection as well. So, I think it could balance between adventure, spirit of ****, and a certain amount of memories is fine, but of course too much familiarity brings too conservatism and this is one of the problem we have to face in what we call classical music. There is this enormous conservatism especially in the musical education. This is, I think, one of the biggest risks for the future, the lack of musical education and the conservatism in the musical education.
Question: Would you ever advise a musician to quit playing?
Pierre Laurent Aimard: I presume that the person that would ask that, there aren't many of them, I guess, are even able to decide on their own. I can't tell you the admiration that I had for the great Master, Mr. Alfred Brendle. Not only for having done the music he has done in his life and inspired us to highly, but also for having decided to stop at a given moment. I regretted that, I missed him as an artist on stage. But my God, I respect him so much. A big courage. A big mastery and self-control.
Question: How do you prepare for your concerts?
Pierre Laurent Aimard: I have to answer on the larger picture, if I may. We have a strange life. We're supposed to make something fresh on stage. When we plan everything two or three years in advance so our programs are supposed to take into account our point of view on art, on masterpieces, lets' say. Our relationship with an audience, our plan at a given place, at a given moment, and our own forces in order to be okay at a given moment for playing this and that, and to be ready. Well, one can just try our best, but we're supposed to integrate the way to be ready with this or that piece. That means to play it enough to prepare it in the right way, to have the type of imagination that … to play this piece on the proper way.
Some pieces, for instance, are not hard technically, but emotionally or artistically very fragile. Some others will be very demanding physically, let's say. Others can be played only at some moments in your life, etc., etc. So, there is a kind of construction that allows us to play this and that pieces combined at a given moment.
And then when the moment arrives, to know yourself well enough to anticipate and see what you need, work, sleep, awoke, an exhibition, a good lecture, a good book, I don't know what else. A good meal maybe.
Question: What happens if you make a mistake?
Pierre Laurent Aimard: It depends on the mistake. If it's a wrong note; it's done, it's too late, only not to lose control because of that. That's a part of life to make wrong notes and by chance, I'm not a pilot for a plane, or I'm not a soldier, so my mistakes will have less tragic consequences than others. But anyway, somewhere on stage at a given moment we feel that there is a kind of life risk, or absolute emergency situation, so it seems that a mistake is, yes, the most horrifying thing in a musician's life. But it is our life, we have to deal with that and go on and try to go on saving the piece we are serving. So, the goal, I would say, is to consider the mistake in the general vision. How can we make it so that the audience will not lose the piece and the light, the sense, the general picture of the piece, even with these mistakes? This is, I think, the priority.
Question: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced in your career?
Pierre Laurent Aimard: It seems that there are often challenges like that.
You know, the stage is not an easygoing place. It’s very impressive, it's quite frightening, and for instance, if you play a piece for a composer, especially the first time, this is quite impressive. So, I remember some moments playing for Mr. Boulay for instance, or Mr. Ligeti, or other creators, where I wouldn't wish too many people to live this kind of feeling.
Now, if you have told for your career, what does this mean? A general vision or development. So, maybe I should speak about one of these moments when you take the risk to make something that represents a lot of risk, but that will add a dimension to your own activity. So, maybe for instance when I answered positively to Mr. **** when he proposed to record the five Beethoven Concertos. This was very challenging because this was not supposed to be a territory where I could be necessarily good, and at this moment they were quite new pieces for me. I had played very few of these concertos before. Three of them never before, because I always thought, my God, so many colleagues play that, sometimes good, for some of them remarkably. Why another one? There are many other priorities. And I thought, why to add another more, or less, good or bad interpretation.
But then suddenly came this proposition and an immense wish to make music with an exceptional musician. And I thought, well I felt, this could be something that could add enormously to your life, well, and I've taken the risk. Well, this transformed my life, sometimes when I hear the recordings; I thought that I make a very risky choice, but too late.
Question: What other arts forms most inform your music?
Pierre Laurent Aimard: I think this is a permanent process, so this would be the list of not all the books that you read in a life, but so many of them because every experiment becomes a part of yourself. Of course you make – you are a filter and you memorize what you memorize. You make your choices. But at the very end, you are consciously and unconsciously a very complex mix.
However, if you ask me to point on some crucial artistic moments that I have had and that maybe I would return to at the moment of my death, for instance. I don't know. But I would probably choose a certain amount of abstract paintings in the 20th century. I'm very fond of abstract arts and not only in the 20th century, but I think that what happened from before the First World War, let say, when **** starts, really. Opens the door for this adventure until the best moments after Second World War is something from in the center of the mystery. And the fact that with abstract arts, one could have such a large scale of expression and languages. Let's say from the ****, sophistication in simplicity from Roflco until the liberation in jester and in complete violent freedom of Pollack, lets say, for having two borders so far from each other is something that has always overwhelmed me deeply and continues to do it.
And if we speak from spoken language, or read language, I think that what remains the deepest in me are some of the pages of, let's say, you know the, how can I call them? Essential poets, that are able to shout about human existence. Like among our French poets, for instance, Francois Villon, with his desperate humanity, or Rimbaud, I think. Well, many others, but should have ****.
Question: What is the link between alcohol and creativity?
Pierre Laurent Aimard: Well, I would say there is a link between the loss of senses and creativity and not just alcohol, but drugs, or pathology. And of course, this had been the subject of many studies, very fascinating, and many tries. The question is to know how much, what provocates the loss of the control is needed for that, or is the creator capable or able, to get to this experimental points without what creates the loss of the sense. In other words, this is always the flirt, I would say, with the border between control and loss of control, or between consciousness and unconsciousness that is so fascinating and has been so fascinating, especially at some moments of mankind, and that we can explore today probably with a more acute way thanks to neurobiology.
Question: What attracts you to an unfamiliar score?
Pierre Laurent Aimard: Its unfamiliarity. The fact that it is an open enigma for me to solve, an invitation to make discoveries, an invitation to put my life in question, a challenge for opening new fields and a nice occupation for my brain for my heart, for my fantasy, being somewhere destabilized, sometimes disturbed at some moments, for making the try to enrich my life.
Question: Why do you like to change the style of music you play?
Pierre Laurent Aimard: I have a little of the feeling to try to change my life, I mean to open my life, to enlarge it all the time. I think that if you are an artist, or if you are occupied by an artistic activity, you just can't stay in the same place. Every day gives an occasion to ask again to yourself, "Well, who am I and where am I going to? Which doors can I open?" But in fact, consequently, I don’t have the feeling that I am very different because I think that I've done that from the very start.
For instance, from the very start, there were, I think, no borders, personally, between what one calls old and new. So, I've always played music from today, even as the “today” at this moment is different than well, now and music from the past. But of course, since a couple of years, the music of the past has been put more in *****, more integrated to my public life. Therefore, many people believe that I've started to be interested with this music since only since a couple of years, so what is wrong?
Recorded on: November 16, 2009
Big Think sits down with the classical pianist.
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
Vaccines find more success in development than any other kind of drug, but have been relatively neglected in recent decades.
Vaccines are more likely to get through clinical trials than any other type of drug — but have been given relatively little pharmaceutical industry support during the last two decades, according to a new study by MIT scholars.
An article in Journal of Bioethical Inquiry raises questions about the goal of these advocacy groups.
- Two-thirds of American consumer advocacy groups are funded by pharmaceutical companies.
- The authors of an article in Journal of Bioethical Inquiry say this compromises their advocacy.
- Groups like the National Alliance on Mental Illness act more like lobbyists than patient advocates.
The Corruption That Brought Prozac to Market — Robert Whitaker, Journalist<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bea9cff2b25efc18b663a011a679ba16"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UyaJExxFPAE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Consumer-oriented groups gained steam over the ensuing decades. Their efforts helped inspire the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act after over 100 people (mostly children) died from a sanctioned drug, Sulfanilamide. If not for the hard work of these advocates, this case might have been overlooked.</p><p>Early efforts also focused on the food industry, which was increasingly using chemical preservatives. The origin of Consumer Reports can be found in the consumer advocacy movement. Both the food and drug industries were getting a free pass to experiment on citizens with few repercussions.</p><p>These movements provided a social foundation for important advocacy work in the second half of the century. Female-led groups evolved to focus on women's reproductive rights, AIDS, and mental health. As the authors write, these groups struck a balance between working <em>with</em> and <em>against</em> current trends. Sometimes you need to craft legislation with officials; at other times, you have to rage against the machine with everything you've got. </p><p>Advocacy marked an important turning point in public health (and culture in general). These groups were tired of placating to a medical model that treated the male body as the standard. This wasn't limited to anatomy. As I <a href="https://bigthink.com/coronavirus/pandemic-warnings-rp-eddy" target="_self">wrote about last week</a>, a high-profile 1970s-era conference about the role of women on Wall St featured no women on stage. You can imagine what reproductive health looked like during that time. </p><p>Advocacy groups made real impact in public health. Then the money began pouring in. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"These groups were funded largely by individual donations with some foundation support, but in the late 1980s, newer women's health groups moved to professionalize, effectively splitting the women's health movement."</p><p>A number of groups resist corporate ties to this day, such as the National Women's Heath Network and Breast Cancer Action. Too often, however, groups argue that their existence depends on corporate funding. This can lead to uncomfortable compromises. </p><p>An estimated two-thirds of patient advocacy groups in America accept funds from the pharmaceutical industry. Pharma companies gave <a href="https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s11673-019-09956-8.pdf" target="_blank">at least $116 million</a> to such groups in 2015 alone.</p><p>For example, over a three-year period, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), which was founded by two mothers whose sons suffered from schizophrenia, received nearly $12 million from 18 pharmaceutical companies. The largest donor was Prozac manufacturer, Eli Lilly. By 2008, three-quarters of NAMI's budget was funded by the pharmaceutical industry. It gets worse:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"An Eli Lilly executive was even 'on loan' to NAMI, paid by Eli Lilly, while he worked out of the NAMI office on 'strategic planning.'"</p>
A customer waiting for his medication at the Headache Bar in a pharmacy in Sydney, Australia. Among the items on sale are 'Paigees with Chlorophyll' and Alka Seltzer on tap.
Photo by Dennis Rowe/BIPs/Getty Images<p>This influx of cash skews public understanding of drugs. It also influences advocates to overlook real problems caused by pharmaceutical interventions, especially when it comes to mental health.<br></p><p>For a real-world example, consider how Xanax came to market. As journalist Robert Whitaker <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2e829xdb4AA" target="_blank">explains</a>, an <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1463502/?page=1" target="_blank">initial study</a> was conducted to determine efficacy in treating panic attacks. After four weeks, Xanax was outperforming placebo, which is common with benzodiazepines over short-term usage. But it wasn't a four-week study; it was a 14-week study.</p><p>At the end of eight weeks, there was no difference in efficacy between Xanax and placebo.</p><p>At the conclusion of the study after 14 weeks, the placebo outperformed Xanax. By a lot.</p><p>Why is Xanax still prescribed for panic attacks? Because the pharmaceutical company, Upjohn, only published the four-week data. The 14-week data was not in its favor. Nearly forty years later, over <a href="https://www.statista.com/statistics/781816/alprazolam-sodium-prescriptions-number-in-the-us/" target="_blank">25 million</a> Americans receive a prescription despite its <a href="https://drugabuse.com/xanax/effects-use/" target="_blank">long list</a> of side effects and addictive profile. </p><p>As the authors note, many consumers are not aware of how advocacy groups are funded.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"An international study of groups in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and South Africa found that the extent of relationships with industry was inadequately disclosed in websites that addressed ten health conditions: cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, cystic fibrosis, epilepsy, depression, Parkinson's disease, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis."</p><p>That's a tangled web of relationships. Pharmaceutical industry funding negatively impacts the work advocacy groups should be focused on: protecting us. NAMI, for example, claims that as a "natural ally" to the pharmaceutical industry, it helps consumers access "all scientifically proven treatments." When the industry ignores evidence of long-term damage caused by its treatments, you have to wonder what's being advocated. </p><p>Although, as the authors conclude, that question is easy to answer. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Instead of drawing insights from patient experience to set organizational agendas and challenge industry agendas, today's groups are silent on high prices and drug harms, oppose efforts to regulate these basic rights, and demand access to drugs that challenge the safety and effectiveness."</p><p><span></span>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Health officials in China reported that a man was infected with bubonic plague, the infectious disease that caused the Black Death.
- The case was reported in the city of Bayannur, which has issued a level-three plague prevention warning.
- Modern antibiotics can effectively treat bubonic plague, which spreads mainly by fleas.
- Chinese health officials are also monitoring a newly discovered type of swine flu that has the potential to develop into a pandemic virus.
Bacteria under microscope
needpix.com<p>Today, bubonic plague can be treated effectively with antibiotics.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unlike in the 14th century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted," Dr. Shanthi Kappagoda, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, told <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">Healthline</a>. "We know how to prevent it — avoid handling sick or dead animals in areas where there is transmission. We are also able to treat patients who are infected with effective antibiotics, and can give antibiotics to people who may have been exposed to the bacteria [and] prevent them [from] getting sick."</p>
This plague patient is displaying a swollen, ruptured inguinal lymph node, or buboe.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p>Still, hundreds of people develop bubonic plague every year. In the U.S., a handful of cases occur annually, particularly in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/plague/faq/index.html" target="_blank">where habitats allow the bacteria to spread more easily among wild rodent populations</a>. But these cases are very rare, mainly because you need to be in close contact with rodents in order to get infected. And though plague can spread from human to human, this <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">only occurs with pneumonic plague</a>, and transmission is also rare.</p>
A new swine flu in China<p>Last week, researchers in China also reported another public health concern: a new virus that has "all the essential hallmarks" of a pandemic virus.<br></p><p>In a paper published in the <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/06/23/1921186117" target="_blank">Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</a>, researchers say the virus was discovered in pigs in China, and it descended from the H1N1 virus, commonly called "swine flu." That virus was able to transmit from human to human, and it killed an estimated 151,700 to 575,400 people worldwide from 2009 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.</p>There's no evidence showing that the new virus can spread from person to person. But the researchers did find that 10 percent of swine workers had been infected by the virus, called G4 reassortant EA H1N1. This level of infectivity raises concerns, because it "greatly enhances the opportunity for virus adaptation in humans and raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses," the researchers wrote.
Want help raising your kids? Spend more time at church, says new study.
- Religious people tend to have more children than secular people, but why remains unknown.
- A new study suggests that the social circles provided by regular church going make raising kids easier.
- Conversely, having a large secular social group made women less likely to have children.