hélène grimaud



"Beethoven: concerto no.5"





concerto no. 5
(in rehearsal - excerpt from
Adagio -
2nd movement)


  - Track 1
Excerpt from the 1st movement

- Track 3

Excerpt from the 3rd movement


Sonata no. 28

  - Track 4
Excerpt from the 1st movement

(Allegretto, ma non troppo)

- Track 7

Excerpt from the 4th movement

(Allegro )



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a passion for music and a spirit that 'dances with wolves'

She is perhaps the most unique among today's generation of classical artists, certainly among its most cerebral. With a career on a trajectory headed for the highest star, her life is already one for the books, securely held in balance by her deeply-rooted love of music and her intriguing devotion to wolves.

Even as an only child growing up in Aix-en-Provence in southern France - the country of her birth but not of her bloodlines - she was constantly breaking out of the mold, both by instinct and by choice.  Agitated and unpredictable was how her befuddled parents and teachers described her. As it turned out, the restlessness was but an excess of creative energy trying to break out of the confining skin of a precocious child, seeking direction and an appropriate mode of expression.  As Hélène Grimaud put it in her fascinating autobiography ("Wild Harmonies: A Life of Music and Wolves"),* music saved her -  when as a six-year old listening for the first time to a little piece by Schumann being played by her soon-to-be piano teacher, she felt as if the genie emerged from Aladdin's lamp, filling the music salon with a magical atmosphere, opening a door to a luminous path that led to a harmonious revelation.

Music thus became the central object of her young life, pursuing it with dogged determination and her own "intuitive way of understanding," being transported "from pleasure to happiness, from discoveries to revelations, from joys to physical sensations of freedom" as she progressed from a series of piano teachers to the National Conservatory of Music in Paris where at age 13 and against convention, she became the school's youngest student. AND, not quite five years later, and two years after her first recording, Rachmaninoff's Sonata No. 2 with Denon - at age 15, its perhaps most famous "drop-out."  One day, against all expectations and against convention yet again, stifled and bored by the homogeneous, clockwork approach to building a career in music, she left the Conservatory forever. Eschewing its official seal of approval, and very much in character, she set out to beat her own self-directed path to her dreams.

She worked her heart out, mostly in solitude, continuing her education by occasionally enrolling in master classes of her own choosing, taught only by those she considered the very best, where she could learn face-to-face from the greats. Otherwise, master classes did not appeal to her - the dialogue that takes place between student and master in these sessions always struck her as somewhat fake.

The American pianist LEON FLEISHER was one such master teacher.  At the end of one class, he said to her: "Whatever you do, you have the potential to do it very well on your own. Just remember, don't start too quickly. Perform as little as possible. Stay on the sidelines until you have found your own system. I hear you want to continue alone.  It is a completely admirable undertaking, and you have everything it takes to make a success of it.  Go to it."

Another master teacher was the Cuban expatriate  JORGE BOLET, who spoke no French and who in 1987 led a master class at the festival at La Roque d'Anthéron, known as "the Mecca of the piano." Of Grimaud (who at the time spoke no English), he said to a journalist from Le Monde: "It's been a long, very long time since I encountered a talent of such extraordinary quality and sensibility of temperatment." These spoken words, once written, were soon heard around the globe, setting the upward trajectory of her star.

The prophetic words have of course become reality - Hélène Grimaud, "talent of extraordinary quality and sensibility," has found her own system and made a big success of it: in 2002, she played the opening night's program at the "Mecca" of her dreams (La Roque d'Anthéron). But that is only one among many distinctions and honors of her stellar career: concerts with the world's great orchestras and conductors, and recitals in the great halls; an ever growing discography; and of course, awards galore:  a French Grammy (1986 Grand Prix du Disque) for her recording of Rachmaninoff's Sonata No. 2 and the Etudes-Tableaux, Op. 33; Concerto of the Year, Cannes MIDEM Festival, 1999; Officier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres awarded by the French Ministry of Culture; Choc du Monde de la musique, Diapason d’or, and Victoire d'honneur, 2004; German Record Critics Award, Record Academy Prize, Tokyo, 2005; Midem Classic Award, 2006  - a list that can only get longer with time.

Today, Grimaud continues to play by her own rules. She will not be intimidated (say, by a conductor's stature) into playing a piece she does not like, or into playing the entire piano repertoire. As much as she loves music, she does not profess to love them all, and will even candidly admit that some composers leave her cold. A glance at her repertoire reveals that she remains as enchanted with the Romantics as when she first heard Schumann's little piece, even as she has forayed into some Ravel, Bartok, Gershwin, and the contemporary Corigliano and Part. She is most intimate with Brahms and Beethoven, but whichever composer's music she chooses to play, it is because the composer has spoken to her and she, in turn, has something to say about his music. Those who have seen her in performance more than once will conclude that she has her own version of chic, a coutoure that favors tailored pants over flowing skirts, and a stage persona that sports no make-up. The agitated and unpredictable child shows up - in the spontaneity of her playing and when she plays agitato con passione, the tactile pleasure of fingers tapping ivory keys, guided by her other-worldly intuition and tempered by the rigorous cerebration that informs her interpretations. She has been called a "philosopher at the piano" for a very good reason. The mystic in her also shows up, ensuring that a Hélène Grimaud performance becomes both an aural feast and the spiritual experience that music has always been for her.

As to her life with wolves in the America she has adopted - specifically in South Salem outside New York City where she keeps a home in the Wolf Conservation Center that she founded (yes, alone!), that is another completely enthralling story, better left for another telling. In any case, it is all in her book. One thing is sure, the preservation of wolves, a species she believes has been demonized through the ages, is a calling as important to her as her music. By her own account, while music saved her, the wolves liberated her from being a slave to her instrument.  Her music (that she plays with her hands) and her wolves (whom she feeds and plays with, fearlessly, with her precious bare hands) are the two unlikely contrapuntal harmonies of her life and between them she has found the spiritual center that has made her the great artist she is today. -GCajipe FanFaire

The album "Hélène Grimaud - BEETHOVEN (concerto no. 5 "emperor" / piano sonata no. 28) was a FanFaire - Deutsche Grammophon CD Giveaway.

* In 2005, Ms. Grimaud wrote another book Leçons Particulières an English translation of which is not yet available.

Credit - images: copyright Mat Hennek - courtesy and with permission of Deutsche Grammophon.

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