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Exclusive Interview with Hélène Grimaud: February 1, 2011

Hélène Grimaud
Resonances: Piano Works by Mozart, Liszt, Bartók, etc.
Hélène Grimaud

CDs:1
Tracks:11

Deutsche Grammophon
Rel. 25 Jan 2011

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On Tuesday, January 25, 2011, Artistic Director Nolan Gasser spoke with renowned French pianist Hélène Grimaud – whose new Deutsche Grammophon release, Resonances presents a provocative recital of masterworks outlining an historic trajectory of the Austro-Hungarian musical line from the late 18th to the early 20th centuries. In this fascinating and insightful conversation, Ms. Grimaud discusses in great detail the thinking and story behind this intriguing collection: three prominent sonatas by Mozart (Sonata in A-, K.310), Liszt (Sonata in B-, S.178, and Berg (Sonata in B-, Op.1, and a set of folk dances by Bartók (6 Romanian Folk Dances, BB.68). The two also discuss her approach to forging an individual interpretation, her process of selecting and cultivating new repertoire, the challenge of finding suitable contemporary repertoire, and much more. Beyond the interview, the Feature includes a FREE STREAM of 1 track from the new album for ALL VISITORS to Classical Archives, a set of Hélène Grimaud videos, and a 2-hour Concert (full streams for subscribers only). Don’t miss this remarkable discussion with one of today’s most influential classical performers.

“All you can do is to be honest in your playing, and to approach the music in the only way you believe it should be done. When practicing, one is always aware of exploring different options: with phrasing, tempi, dynamics; you always know how many different possibilities there are, but in the end, there has to be only one possible way for you – otherwise it doesn't mean anything.”
– Hélène Grimaud

Nolan Gasser: Hélène Grimaud, welcome to Classical Archives. With your new Deutsche Grammophon CD - which was just today released in the US, you've given us not only a wonderful program of great music, but also a bit of an aesthetic essay on the Austro-Hungarian musical legacy from the late 18th to early 20th century. You've poetically titled the album Résonances, by virtue of the reflection that you find each work casting on the others. Now, it may be a bit pedantic - and perhaps for you already a bit cliché - but the program is so provocative, and each work such a masterpiece, that it does seem warranted to spend a little time discussing each of the four works on the CD; I hope that's alright?

Hélène Grimaud: Absolutely; but first of all, I have to say that you speak so well, I'm totally fascinated; you show such an amazing level of language, and understanding - I'm very happy…

NG: Well, you're certainly off to a great start by complimenting the interviewer [laughs]; I much appreciate it.

So, let's start with the work that seems to have been the catalyst for the whole project, namely the Alban Berg Sonata in B minor, Op.1; you've talked about how you first encountered this work at age 11, while a student in Marseilles studying with Pierre Barbizet, and not quite understanding its historic context or the dizzying array of expression markings in the score. So, what was it that led you to reconnect with the Sonata some 30 years later, in 2009; and can you recall what specifically led to the epiphany that this could be the seed of a new and adventurous recital program?

HG: I think it actually started when I first encountered the piece; I was so profoundly struck by that sound-world - to hear this piece after first becoming visually intrigued, because, as you know, there are so many markings in the score of the Berg Sonata, it's so densely annotated. My teacher had underlined every category of marking with a different color: there was blue, yellow, red, and green on the score - and I remember thinking, even at that age, what kind of music would require that amount of underlining and highlighting of dynamics and articulation?

NG: You knew there was something there worth exploring.

HG: Yes, it was really fascinating; and once I heard the piece, I was just transported; I couldn't understand what was going on, it was such a foreign-sounding world to anything I'd heard up until that point, and I had very good feeling. It's strange to say, but I knew somehow that I was going to do something important with this piece. You know, sometimes you meet someone, or you experience something, that doesn't seem relevant to your present life, but you somehow know that it's going to become of great significance at some point later on down the road; and so it was with the Berg Sonata.

I was clearly transported by the quality of the music back then, but I didn't do anything with the Berg until late 2009. I can't much elucidate on the process, but it's almost as if the Sonata was knocking on the door inside me: of course, I knew the [classical piano] repertoire - I'd learned most of it, even if I hadn't actually performed it; I knew it from recordings and from radio. Then one day, somehow, I woke up and was possessed by this particular piece; it was time to liberate it! That's how it happens with all repertoire I've played, and especially that I've recorded. I became possessed by the piece, or by the idea of the piece, though it was one that I didn't know that well or that intimately. And because this happened already such a long time ago, it now feels more a sentimental point of departure for the program than a central one, really.

Then, almost immediately after that moment, toward the end of 2009, came the Liszt [Piano Sonata. I had studied the Liszt when I was 14, but never played it; and, of course, you can't really call yourself a pianist if you don't play that work! So it was only a matter of time, and it was an immediate logical counterpoint to the Berg, in that they both illustrate the extremes of what one can do with sonata form. In the case of Liszt, the piece has such magnetic power - it's almost like witchcraft, in that the gift of metamorphosis that Liszt would give to the [melodic] motives; recasting them so many times and in so many different forms, it's really something otherworldly.

NG: Of course, Liszt was fascinated with things Faustian and demonic throughout his life, and often imbued this witchcraft-like spirit into his music; indeed, he does seem to have had some direct lifeline to the world beyond.

HG: You're absolutely right, and what I find so unique with Liszt's music is not only a tremendous expression of human emotions, but of "inhuman" emotions as well - and that's what draws one to the material in an almost inexplicable way; it gets under your skin, and there's such re-energizing power in the piece, that when you play it, there is almost a physical pleasure. One could also say that of other pianist / composers - Chopin or Rachmaninov, for example, but with Liszt it's particularly intense; and there's such lyricism and poetry of the piece as well. Liszt is always so interesting to me because he made such a perfect synthesis of everything that came before him, but at the same time he opened the way to the future for so many composers who came after him: it's not only Wagner who couldn't have written the way he did without Liszt, but others as well.

NG: Clearly, for you, these two sonatas form part of the same strain, each leading directly to the other. Returning to the Berg for a moment - you've noted how you first encountered the Sonata at an early age, but even then knew that it held a special significance for you, even if you couldn't define it. When you came back to the piece in 2009, did you do so for your own pleasure or curiosity, or did you instinctively know that it was going to be the catalyst for a new phase of your output?

HG: The latter. I knew that it was the beginning of this new recording idea. The Austro-Hungarian Empire had always fascinated me as I was growing up; it changed Europe into how we know it today. And I always somehow had the intention - though I shouldn't say "always", because I don't recall when the idea actually materialized, probably in the last 6 or 7 years - to concretely illustrate this musically. Of course, I wasn't exactly sure how I was going to do this, since there were certainly lots of alternate options - Schubert, for example.

But the Berg was essential, since this Sonata really symbolizes the decadence of the era [early 20th century Vienna]: it's so firmly rooted in Romanticism, yet it also speaks clearly to the next threshold in musical language; and that alone creates a tension in the piece - and a poignancy - which is very compelling.

NG: It's pretty striking that already at the age of 23, Berg had such a clear conception of his place in that historic and cultural context. One hears echoes of Wagner and, of course, the influence of his teacher Arnold Schoenberg - much more here than in some earlier works; but you also hear what's to come in Berg's own output, especially the dramatic expressionist language of his vocal music. Were you already a big fan of the Second Viennese School [the name attached to the early 20th century works of Schoenberg, Berg, and fellow student Anton Webern] - and already well acquainted with works like Berg's [opera] Wozzeck, the Lyric Suite and the Violin Concerto?

HG: Yes, I had been for a long time; and Berg was always my favorite among the three. I always felt very close to this world; and with the Op.1 Sonata, everything that Berg had to bring to the world is all there; it's incredible.

NG: Yes, it's amazing how wild and progressive the harmonies are, and yet how clear the actual discourse is; it's a phenomenal balance in that way.

HG: Yes, absolutely; it's really a reconciliation of opposites. So there they were - Berg and Liszt, at the core of this Austro-Hungarian world. And then with Mozart, the program goes both historically and geographically a bit beyond the confines of how we normally define this period of history. But that also interested me: to make a kind of "musical promenade" along the Danube. And for me, it could only have been that Mozart sonata [Piano Sonata No.8 in A-, K.310]; it couldn't be just any Mozart sonata, but the one that I consider the most intensely dramatic; the one where he drops the mask, and speaks most forcefully in the first person.

NG: Yes, it's the most reminiscent of Don Giovanni of any of his piano sonatas.

HG: Absolutely. And for me, it's fully resonant to Beethoven's Tempest Sonata [Op.31, No.2], it's the most Beethovenian of all his works; and you have this incredible contrast. If you look at the score: in the development of the first movement, you have this fortissimo - first of all, it's the only original fortissimo in any of Mozart's solo piano pieces! But not only that - you have four bars of fortissimo followed by four bars of pianissimo without any transition whatsoever; and then again, immediately afterwards, you have eight bars of fortissimo: that's completely unheard of for Mozart! The tension and the agitation in that piece, and the briskness of the contrast, are just incredible. There is also a tense, haunted quality in the Finale as well - which again is very much like Beethoven's Tempest; it's like a ghostly reminiscence of something that used to be. It's all very striking, and speaks already to the next generation of composers.

NG: The term Sturm und Drang ["storm and stress", a German literary and musical movement of the 1760s-80s] is sometimes applied to this sonata: and, of course, one of the highlights of this approach is this sudden contrast of forte and piano, as you find in some of the sonatas of C.P.E. Bach, and early Joseph Haydn. And this is a wonderful example of Mozart embracing this aesthetic.

I listened to a number of performances of this sonata - indeed, one of the best things about Classical Archives is the easy ability to listen to multiple interpretations of a work. Yours is so unique, and what I really hear in your performance of the Mozart, and more than in most, is that Sturm und Drang intensity. It almost reminded me of Schubert's Erlkönig, with the intensity of your left hand chords in the opening of the first movement, and the way that you play with tempo throughout the work. That sort of proto-Romantic expression is so natural in feeling, and yet it's so unlike what we're used to hearing with that sonata.

HG: Well, thank you - I take that as a huge compliment. Yes, I do feel that Mozart is played way too straight - I mean, of course, I shouldn't generalize; there are many interpretations out there. But his music is often approached with a reverence or correctness, which goes directly against the grain of what I think Mozart was all about. I don't know about you, but I've always felt that Mozart's music often borders on hysteria; even in the "happy" Mozart - and, of course, there are moments of true tenderness or lighthearted fun in his music - along with the joy, you feel that the music is on the verge of disintegrating into something completely mad. I'm sure my Mozart is near impossible to some people, but that's also okay.

NG: I actually believe that it's the duty of professional performers not only to introduce us to works that we don't hear a lot, but also to help us find new meaning in works that we do know very well. There's no doubt that you have done that with all of these works; but with the Mozart it's especially important, because his works are often approached as sacrosanct: you're supposed to play the eighth notes steady, and you don't change up the tempo, etc. But what you're showing us is that it's absolutely natural for the musical narrative to flow with this kind of varied drama and intensity - and that gives us a whole new way of thinking about Mozart, infused with this notion of hysteria. I mean, how could you not be hysterical when you have that much genius within you?

HG: That's a very good point; and what you're saying means a lot to me - I'm deeply appreciative. In the end, as you suggest, there's no such thing as "intrusive" music, it's just different for everyone. All you can do is to be honest in your playing, and to approach the music in the only way you believe it should be done. When practicing, one is always aware of exploring different options: with phrasing, tempi, dynamics; you always know how many different possibilities there are, but in the end, there has to be only one possible way for you - otherwise it doesn't mean anything.

NG: And that's obviously a credo that you've lived your entire career by - and to very good effect.

I wanted to come back to the Berg for another brief moment: you mentioned in the video promo to this disc [see video on right column] that, rather atypically, you perform this work with the score in front of you - by virtue of those constant tempo and dynamic indications: all the accelerando, ritardardo, or stringendo markings in practically every bar; it makes perfect sense. But at the same time, you've spoken in the past of the importance of those magical moments of spontaneity in performance, of not relying on habit - and of avoiding, in your terms, "anti-music."

HG: That's right.

NG: So, I'm just wondering - does having the score right in front of you during a performance, or in making this recording, make taking some of these risks more of a challenge; or perhaps in this case does it liberate you - that you don't have to memorize every tempo shift that Berg indicated?

HG: What I do find liberating is my knowing that I'm not going to rely on automatism. No matter how vigilant you are in the memorizing process, you can never take it for granted - you have to constantly re-study the music with the score in front of you, to make sure that you're not deforming things; that's a very good thing to do. It's amazing to see how one can form bad habits: that the crescendo comes a bit too soon here, or maybe the contrast is not quite as intense as it should be, or you forget about the articulation there, etc. It's a risk with any piece if you don't re-study the score on a regular basis; but with the Berg - for me - having the score is like a direct lifeline to Berg himself. Seeing every single one of these annotations, even contradictory annotations within the same bar - with different dynamics for the different lines - and all the subtle phrasings and sub-phrasings, is something that allows me to better honor the music, by actually looking at it while it's happening.

NG: Right, it's almost as if Berg is talking to you while you're performing.

HG: Exactly.

NG: You've mentioned already that you got re-introduced to the Berg, which then lead to your re-introduction to the Liszt Sonata - where, similarly, you had worked through the piece, though not to performance-level, when you were 14. Did you find - by virtue of first going through the Berg, and considering it within its historical context - that it actually influence the way that you played the Liszt, in an almost reverse evolutionary way?

HG: I think it probably did - just like both of them had an influence on the Mozart; it's very likely that I wouldn't be playing the Mozart in such an extreme way if I had recorded it only among other Mozart sonatas - because they all influence each other, even in ways that are beyond me to describe; I'm convinced of that.

As far as the influence that the Berg had on the Liszt, I think the greatest benefit was the clarity it gave me as to the architecture in the Liszt. It's so easy to get lost in this work, and to be able to sustain that arc during those 30 minutes or so of music is probably the main challenge of the piece. Having delved into every single detail of the Berg, and having made my own analysis of this miniature sonata form, I was able to grasp the importance of the overall architecture of the Liszt - and its importance over the individual details of the Sonata; that may sound like a paradox, but this to me was a very real connection between these two works.

NG: That makes perfect sense. And, of course, there are so many things that tie the works together - both are truncated one-movement sonatas, both in B minor, both ambiguous in their harmony; and also both rely so much on development and variation. We know the state of variation that arose by the time we get to Schoenberg and Berg; and in the Liszt Sonata, we see the seeds of that "perpetual" approach to variation.

Now, the Liszt - lasting, as you mentioned, some thirty minutes - is of Olympian proportion, with contrasts of fiery passages of incredible virtuosity with quiet moments of near-religious meditation. You've had some health issues in the past - happily, all behind you, and never related to your hands - and you are as much as anyone aware of the physical demands on pianists: those "athletes of the small muscles", as your former teacher Leon Fleischer and [neuroscientist] Oliver Sacks, among others, have reminded us. So, thirty minutes of non-stop, often treacherous challenges: how do you train to do a piece like that, and what are some of the techniques that you've developed to keep it from being a potential threat of exhaustion or overwork?

HG: Well, I would say that - of course - one is never immune to that danger, of repetitive motion. In my case, I was very lucky to discover mental work very early on - and I've always done a fair amount of my practicing away from the piano. I think that this has helped a lot, especially for someone who doesn't have a great constitution, such as myself.

But I also think that in the case of the Liszt, the piece is so well-written for the instrument that what sounds incredibly difficult actually feels so right under the fingers - I have to say that I get a physical pleasure; I mean it's physically gratifying to play the piece. Now, what one has to watch out for - and this relates very much to the overall architecture - is to pace oneself throughout; one needs the preserve energy, because the piece often takes you to such limits of expression. But this is what I meant by "witchcraft": it's a piece that gives you energy where you didn't think you had any left.

NG: Right, the music itself actually helps you along.

HG: Exactly, the music itself does that; and that's one of the wonderful things about this sonata. But it's very important to make sure that it doesn't get too much too soon; the temptation is always there, because you are always bordering on madness in so many of these passages - when all hell breaks loose, every three pages or so. Every time you just do it as if there's no tomorrow; but this is why you keep your eye on the architecture of the piece: to know when not to bring - once again - too much too soon.

NG: Well, it seems that you have indeed found the formula for getting through the work unscathed, and it's nice to know that Mr. Liszt is helping you along in the process.

Finally, to close the program, you selected the 6 Romanian Folk Dances of Béla Bartók. These arrangements were made in 1915, a mere 6 years after the Berg Sonata, but obviously a world apart: this is a side of the Austro-Hungarian sphere of influence that's far removed from Vienna or even Budapest - so earthy, and direct, and playful. You yourself have noted that these are indeed very different pieces from the three preceding; and they appear almost as lighthearted encores after the heavy discourse of the three sonatas. So, why these pieces, and did you ever consider the Piano Sonata of Bartók himself, a piece written in 1926, that also incorporates folk elements?

HG: Absolutely, and as a matter of fact, that was the only piece where I had some hesitation, because at first I did want to use the Bartók Sonata. When I was thinking about these four musical dramas, in four different languages, for a single instrument - I thought that it would be nice to use four sonatas. But then I thought more about Bartók, who, even though he came at the end of the empire [officially the Austro-Hungarian Empire lasted from 1868-1918], was around to witness the destruction and pain that was caused by the re-arrangement of the many borders and national territories within the Empire. And this made me feel that, though it seemed less logical than the Sonata, it was more interesting to include these folk dances - to illustrate how Bartók embraced the modernist work of recording this "musique du terroir" (folk music) from the different regions of the Empire. I wanted to end with, if not a note of hope, at least a note of solace - away from all the grand designs that led to so much pain and destruction, and toward the simple music of the people; and that's what influenced my selecting the Romanian Dances instead of the Sonata.

NG: And maybe you were also thinking about your audience - that after these three heavy sonatas, it would be good to have a little bit of lighthearted, yet wonderfully exotic folk pieces to close the disc. In many ways too there is an historic rationale - we go from the late 18th to the early 20th centuries, but a little bit more into the modern world with the Bartók, through his exploration of folk culture, which is so much part of our own world.

HG: Yes, you're right about both points. I also think that it closes the loop in a nice way, because the Romanian Dances are so simple, as you said, and naïve - as one could almost describe Mozart's language in many of his pieces. And it's true, that for the audience it has something to do with tension-release, because there's so much insane tension in that Liszt Sonata; it's something that at times takes you by the hand and speaks softly to the heart, but at other times sings with these primal, but incredibly energizing, rhythms; there's something incredibly healthy in this pairing - and it is totally relevant to the human condition, which also ties into the story of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that fascinated me so much: what in the end was the sad destiny of a people who were swept away by great tragedy. So, it may be a bit of a convoluted way of looking at things, but that's how I thought when I was busy planning the program.

NG: It's also nice when things don't entirely follow our expectations; sometimes we're thrown for a loop, and that can make the experience even richer.

One last question on Résonances - namely on the ordering: you start and end with the Mozart and Bartók, respectively, but break the historic chronology by putting the Berg second and the Liszt third - I'm assuming this was your decision, and if so why that change to the chronology?

HG: Well, I'm not sure there is a good or a logical reason; to me, it's just what felt right from the point of view of the proportions of the harmony, and of the program as a whole. I really don't know why, but it was something about which there was no doubt whatsoever. Of course, I had many people wonder, "Well, wouldn't it make more sense if it goes in chronological order in this case?" Maybe it would, but for me - and I really can't totally explain why - I always knew that the Berg had to come after the Mozart, with the Liszt after that, and then we would have to go from Liszt into Bartók. For me it was "évident", as we say in French [tr. = "obvious"], and I really couldn't intelligently rationalize that at all, I'm afraid.

NG: I think I hear exactly what you're saying: the Berg - as I mentioned - was the catalyst for the whole thing, so in some ways you could almost have started with it; but I think that this wouldn't have worked: you needed to start with the Mozart to set the historic stage. Then you go into the Berg, with the piece that launched the overall theme, and the rest follows logically; that's how I interpreted it, anyway. And again, it's by breaking from what one would expect that helps to give it a sensibility that sets it apart.

HG: Thank you - I'm happy that you're receptive to that; because I knew a lot of people might think, "What's this supposed to be about - this whole program?" But I was convinced of the success of the program, and hoped that upon listening, something would be communicated that would be convincing. But I knew that there was also a risk that it wouldn't be.

NG: Well, I wanted to give you a chance to have something on the record.

HG: Thank you for that chance; and thank you for inquiring so beautifully and receptively along the way, because you show your passion for the material and your understanding of the pieces - I mean it's something really rare.

NG: Well, you're quite welcome - and thank you for the kind words.

In the time we have remaining, I wanted to turn a bit more broadly to other repertoires; of course, all artists have the challenge of having to choose repertoire, but the choices you've made have at times garnered some media attention - notably your predilection for these heavier works - like the Liszt, and a general absence of lighter works, such as those of Debussy or Ravel - except for the concerto. Can you talk about - perhaps not so much that dichotomy, but the overall process that you go through as you decide what repertoire you are going to work through for upcoming concerts and recordings: do you play through a ton of music? Do you just listen? Do you read literature for inspiration?

HG: I did that more in the past - more of my repertoire choices were inspired by literature early on than they are now. What I love to do - and this is why I think it is so important to have quiet time, and not just to be making plans in a constant barrage of action and activity - is to have time with the instrument with no agenda whatsoever: to just sight-read pieces, or to go back and re-read pieces which, again, I might have learned at one point but had never done anything with; or even might have played a few times, but not for twenty years. I think it's very healthy to keep doing that.

Ultimately, this is how it all starts: the pieces, as I've said, sort of "knock on the door from the inside"; it has to come from somewhere, it's obviously not a completely abstract happening. I couldn't survive only practicing the things that I have to play - for me, that would be the beginning of the end; I couldn't only be practicing the things that were scheduled on my concert programs. One has to be playful, and always explore, and envision, and think, "Oh, what could I do with this piece?" For example, I performed the music of Bach for 25 years before I actually decided to record anything by him; I worked on his pieces nearly daily - not the specific ones on the record, since when I recorded that disc, everything was new except for the Bach-Busoni Chaconne. It's something special to live privately in the universe of a composer, when you know that one day it's going to be "out there", though you don't know when. And when the moment manifests itself, it's still slightly mysterious - but again, it doesn't just come out of nowhere.

NG: Can you share with us some of the composers that you've been sight-reading and playing around within the last month or so - not that it will necessarily lead anywhere immediately?

HG: Yes, sure: [modern French composers Olivier] Messiaen and [Henri] Dutilleux - who would have thought [laughs] - after having stayed away from French music for so long?

NG: Ah, Messiaen and Dutilleux are quite the worlds in which to come back to la France!

HG: Yes, Messiaen, Duttileux, and also the Ravel piano concerto - these are some of the more concrete things that are in the works now, along with Brahms 2 [Piano Concerto No.2 in Bb, Op.83] and Rachmaninov 3 [Piano Concerto No.3 in D-, Op.30, and such things. And then there's Schubert - with whom I started not that long ago, actually; but that's going to be awhile longer, definitely. So there are lots of things happening, but they are all happening slowly - in part because I don't really have the time to fully focus on all of them. But I think it's better this way, because it's best to take your time in a non-pressured manner - with all music, ideally.

NG: Sure, and you've already demonstrated - with the Berg, for example - how musical works need a while to gestate for you until they're ready to come out into the world.

HG: Yes, that's exactly how it is.

NG: Happily, there's no shortage of great material, and that's something for which we, as musicians, are very blessed.

There's one final aspect of repertoire that you've discussed in the past, and which I'd love to touch on: contemporary music. Now, you just mentioned that you're starting to work on Messiaen and Dutilleux, so that's starting to get into this realm; but in terms of performing contemporary music - that is, music being written today, you've admitted that you haven't exactly "jumped on the bandwagon". Specifically, you've noted that, given the amount of time it takes to prepare, any new work you perform has to be music that you "can't live without", which is a great expression. I'm wondering if you've thought about what issues or aspects of contemporary music might underlie your reticence, or if you've actively sought out composers who fit your own aesthetic?

HG: Very few; and the ones that I have are so busy at the moment, that it would probably take quite a while before anything finds the light of day - if at all. But I would say - and not just to paraphrase [pianists] Alfred Brendel or Evgeny Kissin - that the main problem for me as a pianist is competition; because, as you know, we don't have enough of a lifetime to go through the entire canon of repertoire. Now, don't misunderstand me, I have the utmost respect for musicians who devote a great part of their lives and activities to commissioning composers - I think it's a wonderful thing, and I think some great things are out there; though for pianists, perhaps, it's a bit less the case than for other instruments at the moment. I still feel that other instruments are getting the lion's share of really quality contemporary works… I mean, everything I'm saying here is utterly politically incorrect, but I really don't care - because that's how I feel, that's how I see it.

NG: Well there is some truth there, I think; as a composer myself, I see that there's a lot of pressure to write for orchestra or chamber groups - and that the solo piano work has lost a bit of its de facto prominence for compositional output.

HG: And with the piano, there is this extra phenomenon - though, of course, there's always the exception that proves the rule: that is, most all of the truly great works ever written for the piano came from composers who were great pianists themselves. I don't think it's possible to explore the resources of this instrument, which are almost anti-musical by nature - it doesn't sing it doesn't sustain, it's not a friendly instrument to write for - unless you really know what you're doing with it. The instrument is a strange contradiction in itself - because it's basically a product of the industrial revolution, and the golden days of the piano are behind us. It will be interesting to see what will happen in the next fifty years…

NG: Well, I do have one thought that I'll just throw out at you - though you've probably already considered it, so maybe it's a bit banal. But, when you do identify that composer that you'd want to work with, you could perhaps ask him or her to write something that touches upon another great love in your life: wolves. I think a piano piece might need to be written to counteract the only piece that people know with the word "wolf" in it - and that's Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf, where obviously it's given a pretty bad rap. And this could help to turn the page on this theme…

HG: That's a wonderful idea that you have - I like it a lot!

NG: Great, we'll look forward to seeing if that comes into being. Well, Hélène, it's been a real pleasure to speak with you. Best of luck with your upcoming tour, and congratulations again on the new album.

HG: Thank you very much; this was a real pleasure for me, sincerely - so thank you for the conversation.


 
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