Hélène Grimaud's laid-back, no-nonsense chic is perfect for weekends at her home in Weggis, Switzerland, a small town near Lucerne that's surrounded by the mountains.
The French pianist shares her ideal weekend, spent with her photographer partner, Mat Hennek, and her German shepard, Chico, in the May 7th issue of the FT's lux guide, How To Spend It. An ideal weekend is utopian for Grimaud's busy schedule, and she rarely spends more than two nights a month at home while knocking out about 90 concerts a year.
In the photo, she's posing on the jetty of the 5-star Park Hotel Weggis' restaurant, The Grape, where she goes when she wants to avoid cooking (which is often).
She finds simple pleasures in tasks like doing the laundry, which becomes symbolic, since she basically lives in hotels.
Grimaud on laundry's simple pleasures: "defined, satisfying tasks where you can see the beginning and the end, and measure the result -- something that is almost impossible with music. And living in hotels, privileged as it is, is an abdication from all responsibility. this keeps things in perspective."
In a feature from a bit ago, French pianist Hélène Grimaud spoke with the Italian press about Bach, wolves, Steinway and a sled. We swear it made sense when we read it, but no matter...we were seriously in awe at the gorgeous photographs taken by partner/photographer Mat Hennek.
Settling into her seat at Parma's Auditorium Niccolò Paganini for the Daniel Harding/MCO/Hélène Grimaud concert this past Friday, March 27, Opera Chic wondered -- how many times does the old "Brahms is soooooo autumnal" horse need to be beat until we can finally move on to a newer, cooler reading of his work? Make no mistake -- no one more than Opera Chic loves, for example, Carlo Maria Giulini's Brahms Fourth Symphony, that is so masterful in Giulini's and the CSO control of that powerful structure that we can probably consider it the definitive reading of this specific work. But Brahms symphonies in general -- not to mention his chamber work -- have been condemned to be interpreted as sadcore, as the perfect soundtrack for a twilight time (it's the approach given to it even by a giant such as the Glorious maestro Barbirolli -- his Third is so elegant, so burnished, OK, but...).
The Third, actually, is very much the opposite -- just like much of Brahms's work: the Third has a nervous, powerful soul that is reluctant tho manifest itself -- too bad so many conductors muffle that fury, and that originality, in an analysis that's just too melancholy. The Third does not go gentle into the night -- in fact, it isn't even a nocturnal work, and its famous coda is anything but peaceful. It's a work of elusive complexity that, to Opera Chic, appears to be the key to unlocking Brahms's secrets and, at the same time, forever condemned to be misunderstood. It's Brahms's Alice in Wonderland.
And since this work was part of the program of the night's concert Opera Chic was curious to see what Daniel Harding, that brash young maestro, would with that amazing work of wonders. Opera Chic had recently heard another young, dashing maestro, John Axelrod, give Brahms what is Brahms's -- she had high hopes that Harding would do the same, give us a Brahms who is here and now.
But even before the music began it was impossible not to notice the muffled and rather surreal channeling of sound that marked the hall, the pre-concert chatter echoing strangely over our heads. Italian architecture maestro Renzo Piano's Eridania sugar factory does indeed have a few issues with sound, a simple shoebox without palchi or balconies to compartmentalize the reverberations. Though it hardly matters to the majority who are so impressed with the inescapable warmth radiating from the rich stage, gorgeous ivory walls, and captivating sheet-glass backdrop. No worries, though...it's still a marvel of modern architecture, and OC urges those visiting Parma's historic landmarks to put Piano's Auditorium Niccolò Paganini on the agenda after sampling Verdi's own porky spalla cotta at the local restaurants.
The Harding/Grimaud/MCO night opened with Robert Schumann's Genoveva -- a work that premiered in Leipzig in the summer of 1850: critics were so harsh that only three performances followed, and the composer never wrote another opera. Wagner (whose Rienzi pretty much sucked, too, but he did keep writing opera anyway) can certainly be heard in the strains of the overture; Franz Liszt said of the work that it's the sister of Fidelio, but is missing Leonore's pistol. Though the selection was unpredictable, it was simply a warm-up for the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, who rightfully embraced it with a restrained, clear, almost aloof touch, that somewhat lacked the passion and tragedy that is reflected in the opera.
Then the piano was wheeled in by a couple of stagehands for Hélène Grimaud's entrance. She apparently showed-up for a summer wedding in white pants, white shoes, and white tails. (What, no white top hat, Hélène?). Although Beethoven's impressive cycle of piano concerti boast more popular selections (like his first & second), Hélène has had a deep connection with the mysterious qualities of his fourth concerto, having recorded it almost a dozen years ago with Kurt Masur and the New York Philharmonic (omg she looks like a litte deer bebbe!)
Beethoven's fourth concerto begins with the Allegro moderato, where the soloist is delivered from silence, and those half-dozen opening measures of piano solo can impress the tone of the entire 3 movements. Hélène marked it immediately with her trademark contradictions: timid and authoritative, staccato with undertone legato, reflective but decisive -- the Allegro was just that.
The second movement allowed Harding and the Mahler to radiate, and he showed his deep understanding of the lyrical movement of Beethoven's Andante. The orchestra remained stirring and grounding to Grimaud's rich & driven color, and Harding allowed her to breathe without crowding her in a balanced dialogue.
The Rondo Vivace was suffused with lightness all around: a driven, twinkling, gorgeous color, which Grimaud built to a stirring crescendo. The orchestra punched ahead in a gallop to which Grimaud responded playfully, building drama and movement with lots of affectations. And she's entitled...she's been analyzing this work for a decade. Grimaud exited the concert hall to more than half-a-dozen ovations, and despite calls for 'bis', she bowed-out gracefully and left the audience to digest her expert reading of Beethoven's opus 58.
To read about Daniel Harding's sublime Brahms's Third Symphony with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, click the link below...
Opera Chic is back from a recharging day trip to Parma & the environs, where she sampled delicacies that Verdi himself pined for when away from his native Ronc, ran through the grassy farmlands in her black wedge Gucci platforms, then wrestled a baby sheep to the ground, plucked its wool out with Shu Uemura tweezers, and knit herself a freaking tea cozy.
'Tho she sampled plates and plates of yummy things (thanks to the excellent restaurant at Locanda del Lupo and Signora Miriam's always-stellar Trattoria La Buca), the highlight of the trip was exploring Renzo Piano's revamped, late 19th century Eridania sugar warehouse, Auditorium Niccolò Paganini, where she joined Maestro Daniel Harding and his Mahler Chamber Orchestra as a backdrop to Hélène Grimaud's twinkling Beethoven piano concert no. 4. As if that wasn't enough, Harding's invocation of something sublime indeed settled on his musician's bows for Brahms Symphony no. 3 in F major and left us breathless. Keep us close for a full report tomorrow...
We're just happy that in Parma we'll be able to see Harding -- nobody's perfect, he is a Manchester United fan after all -- with Grimaud, the Montblanc Brand Ambassador who adds Dmitri Bashkirov, Gidon Kremer, and Martha Argerich to her list of BFFs on her Blackberry (HG has also performed with some of OC's favorite conductors -- Uncle Solly Temirkanov, Claudione Abbado, Chailly, Luisi).
We're expecting that trademark Grimaud sound...delicate yet driven, deep yet unsentimental, confident yet unassuming (click here for some clips from her new Bach CD) and Harding -- well, since he can conduct in the woods, in the bleak midwinter, he is a perfect match to make music with the Wolf Lady.
“Montblanc has appointed the world-class Pianist Hélène Grimaud as new Brand Ambassador of Montblanc’s arts & culture projects like the 'Prix Montblanc'. The Prix Montblanc is another celebration of an award given by Montblanc to award and encourage young classical music talents who have shown tremendous efforts and contributions to the development of arts and culture."
And there it is. Grimaud joins Nicolas Cage (whaaaa?!) and lol "international opera star" lol Katherine Jenkins as the brand new hotness according to Montblanc, the purveyor of overpriced, mediocre pens (give us a so-oldskool-it-hurts Parker or an elegant Cartier instead), and has recently paid Milan for prime advertising space on the Corso Vittorio Emanuele side of Duomo smack in the middle of downtown.
Not everyone knows, of course, that this is not a new phenomenon: legendary pianist Clara Haskil hawked cigarettes (she was no singer after all) and good ole Arthur Rubinstein's face was employed by Nike as Kobe Bryant's nerdy sidekick.