One of her first teachers once told her: “I don’t want you to be the best. I want you to be unique.”
Hélène Grimaud is a French pianist, among the most acclaimed on the international music scene.
A Beethoven enthusiast, she recently played the Piano Concerto No. 5, known as the “Emperor”, in Berlin.
She said: “I think that the tools available to Beethoven to write his music were insufficient for him. He’s someone who very often composed by pushing the boundaries – beyond the instruments available at the time, and even beyond the ‘reality’ of the musical matter.
“When faced with such energy… there’s something irrepressible… and yet, one has to deal with something tangible, something with limits of its own. Finding the right balance between his crazy extremism while holding on the reins… well, this is what I find to be the most difficult in this concert.”
Hélène only approached this Concerto in recent years.
“For a long time I couldn’t come to terms with a somewhat martial colour in this music; but as I approached this work, I realised it’s actually something different; it’s rather joyful, overflowing, there’s a vital energy in it, an earthly force exploding from this work; and this has nothing to do with the military tone I perceived when I was younger,” she said.
She believes that over time music changes, and matures, inside the interpreter:
“Even over a short lapse of time of only five years, it changes all the time; and this is also the mystery, and the miracle, of this music – that it changes inside you, despite you, regardless of you. Once you’ve absorbed it, its matter, its fibre – and this happens also when you’re not working on it, when you’re not playing it – well, when you get back to it, you realise that it has grown and taken on a life of its own, as it were, within you.”
Hélène Grimaud is a perfectionist but she rebuts the notion of perfection.
She said: “The most beautiful moments are not the formally perfect. On the contrary, they are when you feel the fragility, the abyss… when you feel that everything is at stake… those are the moments that touch me, that excite me the most, that seize me. I think that art best expresses itself in risk, not in comfort.”
In this item Grimaud was playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 73 (‘Emperor’), First and Second Movement.