We first heard Jean-Yves play live at a sell-out concert presented by the Orange County Philharmonic Society, to an audience expecting to hear Peter Serkin play a Mozart Piano Concerto. As it turned out Mr. Serkin fell ill and had to cancel, and a dashing young pianist was summoned from Paris to fill his shoes. And did he fill them!
From where we were seated in third row right-of-center, all we could see aside from the usual cellos locked between tuxedo-ed (or black-gowned) legs on stage right and the occasional swing of a baton from behind the piano, were red-stockinged feet pumping on the pedals. Distracting? Perhaps at the start, but then you get used to it and soon begin to fancy the idea. This splash of red in a sea of black could only have primed the audience for the sonic colors that gradually filled the hall as Jean-Yves Thibaudet let off one melodic strain after another of Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.
With the full complement of the Minnesota Orchestra under the baton of Eiji Oue, it turned out to be a ravishing concert. The audience was dazzled. And Mozart lovers could not have regretted hearing Rachmaninoff instead–even a piece often dismissed as too familiar or tired. Because when Jean-Yves plays, intellect and emotion, technique and style, charisma and dexterity, and clarity and warmth engage in the most brilliantly refreshing fashion. The commonplace sounds new again, and the romantic – as in Rachmaninoff or Liszt or Chopin – is ever so sweet but never becomes treacle. Call it Thibaudet magic!