My interview with pianist Helene Grimaud:
On Friday, January 23rd, I had the opportunity to connect with pianist Helene Grimaud, who is on a concert tour in Europe. This past week, she performed at several venues, including concerts in Paris and Barcelona.
Next week takes her to Aix-en-Provence and Lyon in France, and on to Rotterdam in the Netherlands. In February she will give a number of concerts in California, as well. Ms. Grimaud was totally gracious and patient; here are some of the topics we discussed:
HZ: Ms. Grimaud, thanks so much for devoting some time to talk with me today. I feel that it is helpful for my readers and those who attend your concerts to learn more about who you are as an artist. I see from your concert in Paris what a wonderfully diverse program you prepared for your listeners there. And I see that all of your orchestra concerts this month feature the Brahms piano concerto #1. I LOVE this concerto, because it is so unique, and it was so advanced and creative for the time in which it was composed. Would you please comment on your very first performance of this masterpiece, in what year that was, and who conducted? And perhaps other orchestras and conductors with whom you performed this work?
HG: “Oh… Many memorable performances; I remember the Gothenburg Symphony under Naemi Jarvi. Also with Kurt Sanderling; Claudio Abbado; and others.”
HZ: I have a lot of Brahms’ performances recorded on my iPod, and I listen to it at home, overlooking the ocean. However, for me, LIVE performances are always special. As such, has the availability of on-line music affected the public’s attendance at your concerts?
HG: “Live concerts are imperfect, but they have something irreplaceable; Of course, there are inevitable audience disturbances of coughing and cell phones. Remember what took place with Glenn Gould: He decided to stop giving public concerts, and he only made recordings…”
HZ: How do you maintain the your concert and recital repertoire fresh and interesting for the audience? How often do you add new works to the repertoire?
HG: “This really varies, and it depends on my schedule; on average, perhaps I add one new composition per year, and one new recital piece every two years. I need to try to preserve more free time for that purpose.
HZ: Earlier this week, I made an attempt to purchase a wonderful photograph of the young violinist Yehudi Menuhin with conductor Arturo Toscanini. Is it still possible in our day for experienced artists such as you, to connect with another artist that you admire, and to explore ideas, advice, and suggestions in total privacy?
HG: “With all the travel that we do, not much of this kind of connection is feasible”
HZ: What is your “home base”? I know that you were born in Aix-en-Provence, and that you are performing there on January 28th. Is that still a “return home” for you?
HG: “Yes, my parents still live in Aix-en-Provence, but I left there when I was 12 years old. My home bases are now London, New York, and other cities.”
HZ: Do you maintain some connections with living composers?
HZ: Please comment on whether you teach individual musicians or chamber music groups. Or do you conduct Master Classes?
HG: “I do not have much time for teaching right now. Occasionally I have given a Masters Class. I find it very exhilarating to see, listen, and work with young pianists. I am very inspired by that.”
HZ: Would you share with my readers any amusing stories about piano failures, broken piano strings or other ‘emergencies’ that occurred during concerts?
HG: “No… just on occasion when the piano is not properly positioned and locked in place, I have to adjust my piano bench when the piano begins to move forward on the stage…”
HZ: When you are not performing or practicing, what do you enjoy doing for your own personal enjoyment?
HG: “When I have the time, I like to write, read, and I also enjoy animals…”
HZ: (As this interview was nearing its end, I reflected in my own mind about the life of the traveling musician: The loneliness and challenges of travel, the infernal security aspects, the flight delays, snow storms, and strange hotels. Then also the vast differences in competence among orchestras and conductors. What’s left? A brief moment of experiencing the genius of Brahms’ music, or Maurice Ravel’s creativity. That brief experience can lead to a smile my Ms. Grimaud, as seen in the photo at the top.)
HZ: On October 15th 2014, I published a post at my blog about your recording of the two Brahms piano concerti. Now my readers will have access to this interview. And next month I will publicize your two live performances in San Francisco on February 15th and 16th. I know that these will be huge successes for you.
For my readers: Click HERE to purchase tickets for the Rotterdam Philharmonic and Ms. Grimaud in San Francisco.
HZ: Finally, Ms. Grimaud, thank you again for your time and your courtesy today. I enjoyed very much our time on the telephone together; perhaps we can do it in person next time?
HG: “Yes; it was very good to talk with you, as well.”
Here is a video of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1, as performed by Hélène Grimaud:
And next, here is Helene Grimaud, performing beautifully the Jazzy Ravel Piano Concerto In G, which she is also playing on this European and US tour. The amazing second movement begins at 09:25.