Share This Page

Pianist returning to PSO finds Brahms special

| Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Chris Christodoulou
Pianist Helene Grimaud performed with the Pittsburgh Symphony, led by conductor Manfred Honeck, at the BBC Proms Festival at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 2011.
Mat Hennek
French pianist Helene Grimaud will perform with the Pittsburgh Symphony.
Chris Christodoulou
Pianist Helene Grimaud performed with the Pittsburgh Symphony, led by conductor Manfred Honeck, at the BBC Proms Festival at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 2011.

When pianist Helene Grimaud returns to Heinz Hall for her fourth set of Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra subscription concerts, she'll be performing music by a composer for whom she's felt a special affinity nearly all her life.

She loves the music by Ludwig van Beethoven, Maurice Ravel and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart that she's played here before and on the orchestra's 2011 European tour with Manfred Honeck.

But when she heard Johannes Brahms' music, it felt somehow familiar, even though she was hearing it for the first time.

Honeck will conduct the Pittsburgh Symphony with Grimaud as soloist at concerts on Jan. 31, and Feb. 1 and 2 at Heinz Hall, Downtown. The program is Johann Sebastian Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor, performed in Leopold Stokowski's famous orchestration, plus Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 4, and Johannes Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1.

Grimaud was a child when she heard her first Brahms — not a piano piece, but his Symphony No. 3.

She says she had “a sense of recognition, this feeling of how you have some encounters and you know it's always going to be part of your life, going forward. You may not know much else, but you know that.”

She started right away with Brahms music she could play — the first Intermezzo from the Piano Pieces, Op. 117, and the first of the four Ballades, Op. 10. She says her first really strong performing experiences, years later, were of the sonatas Nos. 2 and 3 and then the First Concerto.

Grimaud has made two recordings of Brahms' First Concerto. The earlier is from 1997, with the Staaskapelle Berlin conducted by Kurt Sanderling. In September 2013, Deutsche Grammophon released a two-disc set of both Brahms' Piano Concerti of Grimaud performances from 2012 with Bavarian Radio and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras conducted by incoming Boston Symphony music director Andris Nelsons.

She particularly likes the Musikverein concert hall in Vienna, where she recorded the Piano Concerto No. 2. Brahms consulted on the design of the hall.

“The Musikverein is one of the most beautiful concert halls in the world,” she says. “It has a perfect balance between warmth and radiance and clarity. It has this golden tone.”

Apart from her musical work, Grimaud is a noted wildlife conservationist, human-rights activist and author of three published books.

Yet despite, or perhaps because of, her keen intellect, Grimaud knows the limits of explaining her affinity for Brahms.

“I think there is a dimension in Brahms' dramatic intensity, spectrum of human emotions, this yearning which I think resonates so strongly with many of us,” Grimaud says. “I think, apart from the mysterious aspects of subjective affinities and chemistry, there is something that can never be fully understood or explained about us, about what makes an artistic relationship strong between composer and interpreter or different interpreters.”

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.