Renaissance woman Hélène Grimaud is not just a deeply passionate and committed musical artist whose pianistic accomplishments play a central role in her life. She is a woman with multiple talents that extend far beyond the instrument she plays with such poetic expression and peerless technical control. The French artist has established herself as a committed wildlife conservationist, a compassionate human rights activist and as a writer.
Grimaud was born in 1969 in Aix-en-Provence and began her piano studies at the local conservatory with Jacqueline Courtin before going on to work with Pierre Barbizet in Marseille. She was accepted into the Paris Conservatoire at just 13 and won first prize in piano performance a mere three years later. She continued to study with György Sándor and Leon Fleisher until, in 1987, she gave her well-received debut recital in Tokyo. That same year, renowned conductor Daniel Barenboim invited her to perform with the Orchestre de Paris.
This marked the launch of Grimaud’s musical career, characterised ever since by concerts with most of the world’s major orchestras and many celebrated conductors. Her recordings have been critically acclaimed and awarded numerous accolades, among them the Cannes Classical Recording of the Year, Choc du Monde de la musique, Diapason d’or, Grand Prix du disque, Record Academy Prize (Tokyo), Midem Classic Award and the Echo Award.
Between her debut in 1995 with the Berliner Philharmoniker under Claudio Abbado and her first performance with the New York Philharmonic under Kurt Masur in 1999 – just two of many notable musical milestones – Grimaud made a wholly different kind of debut: in upper New York State she established the Wolf Conservation Centre.
After appearances at the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival and the Ruhr Piano Festival in July, Grimaud will begin the 2017-18 season in Sweden, as the Gothenburg Symphony’s Artist in Residence, with a chamber recital and performances of the Ravel Piano Concerto, a work she will also play in Zurich and Vienna in January. Other highlights include concerts featuring Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto in, among other cities, Munich with Valery Gergiev and the Munich Philharmonic, on tour in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland with the Gothenburg Symphony, and in Philadelphia with Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra, and performances this autumn in Lucerne, Ludwigshafen and Paris of a multimedia concert project, Woodlands and beyond…, which combines piano works by Romantic and Impressionist composers with images from Woodlands, the latest publication by her partner, fine art photographer Mat Hennek. This was premiered at the Hamburg Elbphilharmonie in April 2017.
Performance highlights of recent years include two collaborations with the Turner Prizewinning artist Douglas Gordon – tears become… streams become…, a large-scale immersive installation at New York’s Park Avenue Armory, and Neck of the Woods, a piece devised for the Manchester International Festival. During the 2016-17 season Grimaud made a series of European appearances with Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Rotterdam Philharmonic; performed concertos by Brahms and Ravel in the US and Australia; gave recitals in Germany and Switzerland with cellist Sol Gabetta; and performed music from her 2016 album, Water, in the US and Europe, as well as at a number of venues in South Korea and China.
Hélène Grimaud is undoubtedly a multi-faceted artist. Her deep dedication to her musical career, both in performances and recordings, is reflected and reciprocally amplified by the scope and depth of her environmental and literary pursuits.
Photos © Mat Hennek / DG