To borrow a notion from Jean-Luc Godard’s film Two or Three Things I Know About Her, there are at least two or three things one should know about the much-celebrated pianist Hélène Grimaud. She is a passionate champion and protector of the wolf kingdom, who launched the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, New York. She is a resident of Santa Ynez, when not out making the world her home. She is also one of the world’s finest and most distinctive classical and personal classical pianists and interpreters. Lastly, Grimaud will make a welcome return as recitalist at the Lobero Theatre on Wednesday, December 7, part of CAMA’s “Masterseries” and one of the most anticipated events of the 2022 classical music year in town.
The French-born artist’s Lobero program is a treasure chest of piano literature options. Robert Schumann’s classic Kreisleriana takes up the second half, preceded by a sampler plate of short-ish works by composers well-known for their piano music — Chopin, Satie, and also the living Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov, whose music is the focus of Grimaud’s latest release in her Deutsche Grammophon discography. Silvestrov, who left Kyiv this year to escape the Russian aggression against his country, now lives in Berlin and is known for his lyrical and tonal neo-classical style, tinged by post-modern instincts.
Although Grimaud works with orchestras and in various chamber music contexts, working in recital mode is especially rewarding for her. “It’s really like nothing else when you are playing alone,” she said. “It’s like a religious experience. Nothing compares to a solo recital.”
She added, “Of course, you stay within parameters of the conception of what you want to be doing, but at the same time, you have to have that flexibility to what happens. That’s when it becomes really interesting. It finds an incarnation through the urgency of the concert and the emotional event that the concert can be — not every time, but it can be. If it happens, it’s pretty much irreplaceable.”
From her animal activist perspective, Grimaud makes the point that her lives as a world-renowned pianist and wolf conservationist are more closely linked than one might think.
“I’ve often said that, for me, especially if you look at the German Romantic movement, one of the main precepts was that nature is the ultimate muse, the ultimate inspiration one can find in reconnecting with nature. In that sense, these activities are nowhere near as incompatible as they might otherwise seem on paper.”