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“The Pianist with Bite”

Helene Grimaud
Photo: Mat Hennek / DG

This week Hélène Grimaud comes to London to perform Brahms’ first piano concerto with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Andris Nelsons (10th October at the Royal Festival Hall).

[Note: Andris Nelsons has had to withdraw from this concert due to a viral flu infection. Conductor Hannu Lintu is taking his place.]

It’s the first of a two part installment which sees the pianist return to the UK capital in January to play Brahms’ second piano concerto, also with the Philharmonia and Nelsons for performances not just in London but also in Leicester, Basingstoke and Oxford.

Previewing this week’s performance and her new release of both Brahms concertos on Deutsche Grammophon, The Times travelled to the States to meet with Hélène.

“We are on Grimaud’s home territory. I have met her one hour upstate from New York City, at the Wolf Conservation Centre that she founded 14 years ago. By any standards, it’s an impressive achievement: it now has four full-time staff and hosts thousands of visitors. It is plugged into America’s Species Survival Plan, which is safeguarding some of the most critically endangered wolf species from extinction. “The centre has grown to the point that it could easily survive without me,” Grimaud says, “but it’s my extended family — not just the humans involved with the project but also the animals.”

Grimaud’s latest project, true to form, is vast and in its own way not uncontroversial. Few pianists play both hugely demanding Brahms piano concertos — oddly, women players are peculiarly resistant to either — but Grimaud has recorded them both under the baton of Andris Nelsons … This is Grimaud’s Romantic heartland, and her trademark flair and propulsion is etched over the recording, although it may be too strong a dish for some. It’s the D Minor (No 1) that sparkles the most, perhaps unsurprisingly as it has been a constant in her career. “The piece is like life in the first degree,” she says, alluding to the young composer’s turbulent personal circumstances when he was writing it. “And maybe that’s why I keep recording it live. Somehow I can’t conceive of doing it in the studio.”

Audiences in the UK can hear Hélène Grimaud talk about her latest project on BBC Radio 3’s flagship show “In Tune” where Hélène will appear live on Wednesday 9th October at c. 17.30 GMT. Audiences around the world can listen to the interview online.