Helene GrimaudShe could be called a Renaissance woman for our times. 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, compassionate human rights activist, and writer.
Grimaud was born in 1969 in Aix-en-Provence, where she began her piano studies at the conservatory with Jacqueline Courtin and subsequently under Pierre Barbizet in Marseille. She was accepted into the Paris Conservatoire at just thirteen and won first prize in piano performance 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, the renowned conductor Daniel Barenboim invited her to perform with the Orchestre de Paris.
This marked the launch of Grimaud’s musical career, one highlighted 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 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 acclaimed musical milestones - Grimaud made a wholly different kind of debut. In upper New York State, she established the Wolf Conservation Center.
Her love for the endangered species was sparked by a chance encounter with a wolf in northern Florida, which led to her determination to open an environmental education center. “To be involved in direct conservation and being able to put animals back where they belong," she says, “there’s just nothing more fulfilling."
But Grimaud’s engagement does not end there. She is also a member of Musicians for Human Rights, a worldwide network of musicians and people working in the field of music to promote a culture of human rights and social change.
For most people, establishing and running an environmental organization or having a flourishing career as a musician would be accomplishment enough. Yet, remarkably, Hélène Grimaud has also found time to pursue writing. Her first book, Variations Sauvages, was published in French in 2003 and subsequently translated into English, Japanese, Dutch, and German. Her second book, Leçons particulières, which is part novel and part autobiography, followed in 2005. Most recently, she published Retour à Salem, also a semi-autobiographical novel, which was released in French in October 2013.
Despite her divided dedication to these multiple passions, it is through Grimaud’s thoughtful and tenderly expressive music-making that she most deeply touches the emotions of audiences. Fortunately, they have been able to enjoy her concerts due to her extensive touring with major orchestras around the world. Her 2014 calendar includes performances with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra/Jaap van Zweden, the Philharmonia and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Andris Nelsons, the San Francisco Symphony/Lionel Bringuier, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Jirí Belohlávek, the Los Angeles Philharmonic/Gustavo Dudamel, L’Orchestre Métropolitain du Grand Montréal, and Das Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Last September, Hélène Grimaud began her recital tour with a program inspired by water. The year ended with a collaborative project at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City with visual artist Douglas Gordon: “tears become…streams become…."
In September 2013, Deutsche Grammophon released her album of the two Brahms piano concertos, the first concerto with Andris Nelsons conducting the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and the second recorded with the Vienna Philharmonic. When she took the Brahms on tour to Southeast Asia, The Straits Times of Singapore said: “Her playing was distinguished by superb timing and consistency of touch, and seamless interplay between piano and orchestra."
Grimaud is also an ardent and committed chamber musician who performs frequently at the most prestigious festivals and cultural events with a wide range of musical collaborators such as Sol Gabetta, Thomas Quasthoff, Rolando Villazón, Jan Vogler, Truls Mørk, Clemens Hagen, and the Capuçon brothers.
An exclusive Deutsche Grammophon artist since 2002, her album prior to the Brahms concertos was Duo, a collaboration with cellist Sol Gabetta, which won the 2013 ECHO Award for "chamber recording of the year." The disc was released in October 2012, and that autumn the pair gave a series of concerts in Germany and France, performing the cello sonatas by Schumann, Brahms, Shostakovich, and Debussy, which are featured on the disc. The album’s repertoire originated as an inspired recreation of a concert they gave at the 2011 Gstaad Festival and which the Berner Zeitung described at the time as "breathtaking," while BBC Music Magazine commented that "… in the grand first movement [of Brahms’s Cello Sonata No. 1] Hélène Grimaud produces a context of almost orchestral depth and spaciousness into which Gabetta projects her eloquently refined lines."
Previous releases include her Mozart Piano Concertos No. 19 and No. 23, a disc released in 2011, which also featured a collaboration with singer Mojca Erdmann on a recording of Mozart’s "Ch’io mi scordi di t?" Grimaud’s 2010 release, the solo recital album Resonances, featured music by Mozart, Berg, Liszt, and Bartók. Other DG recordings by Grimaud include Bach’s solo and concerto works, in which she directed the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen from the piano, a Beethoven disc with Staatskapelle Dresden and Vladimir Jurowski, the solo albums Reflection and Credo (both of which feature a number of works linked thematically), a Chopin and Rachmaninov sonatas disc, a Bartók CD with Grimaud playing the Third Piano Concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra under Pierre Boulez, and a DVD release of Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra under the direction of Claudio Abbado.
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.