Rainer Moritz’s film exploring the enigmatic Hélène Grimaud
packs an awful lot of information into a mere 58 minutes. The
variety of filmic techniques he brings to bear ensures variety
without becoming dizzying and complements the way in which the
narrative moves, sometimes smoothly, sometimes abruptly, through
a wide variety of locale and situations.
The first image
we see is of wolves, before Grimaud is shown in concert opening
Rachmaninov’s Second Concerto (Oslo PO/Dausgaard). The juxtaposition
of the two sides of Grimaud is significant, for music and wolves
are her two great loves.
film invites us in to Grimaud’s life, complementing her biography
(Wild Harmonies, Riverhead Books). The wolf-world and
the music-world are initially juxtaposed and accorded equal
importance. Grimaud explains (in English) her attraction to
the USA - where she feels she belongs, where she can find herself
- and her past, including her time with Pierre Barbizet of the
Marseille Conservatory, a meeting that occurred at age eleven,
and her entrance thereafter into the Paris Conservatoire.
meeting with a producer from the record company Denon led to
a Rachmaninov disc - cross to Grimaud playing Rachmaninov. We
change interview situation then, from a homely shot in front
of window looking out on greenery to a concert hall, where the
interview is intercut with a substantial chunk of Schumann’s
Piano Quintet in E flat, Op. 44. Grimaud refers to the “primal”
aspect of interacting with the 80 or so musicians of a symphony
orchestra and contrasts it with the intimacy of chamber music.
on to the wolf conservation project that has moved, as she says,
from fascination to responsibility. We meet the wolves (Apache,
the alpha-male, Kyla, the only female, Lucas, the younger male
…). For Grimaud relationships with wolves are a metaphor for
man’s larger relationship to Nature herself, but she also recognises
the “symbolically charged” nature of the animal in all cultures
as well as what she calls the wolf as an “engineer for bio-diversity”:
the essential part the wolf plays in its natural environment.
She talks about this whilst on a train, and we see various elements
of the filming itself taking place, including photography –
a neat link to the photographer himself, and his story, for
he is Hélène Grimaud’s partner. And the end of the train journey
- we see Grimaud arriving - links to a discussion of the Schumann
Piano Concerto, a beautifully articulated contribution by Grimaud.
frequent changes of scene perhaps indicate the nature of Grimaud’s
life as concert pianist. Next, view of New York - accompanied
by the music of Gershwin - before seeing Grimaud at Symphony
Space for a radio show (Grimaud in interview) and hearing her
view of the necessity of a “clear mental image” of a piece and
her synaesthesia. There follows a down-to-earth discussion of
the problems of travel before we see her at the Proms, where
she was making her Proms debut: Eschenbach and the Orchestre
de Paris in Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto. Then she moves
on to Oslo, Berlin and a host of other places. In Oslo, at the
end of an extended European tour, we come full circle to that
Rachmaninov Two that opened the DVD – and problems with pianos
- the recurring nightmare of the concert pianist.
perhaps, Grimaud talks affectionately about the recording process
(Brahms Third Sonata, Op. 5), about how the process stays with
her. She refers to Brahms’ First Concerto - which she has, at
the time of writing, just performed at the Festival Hall - as
a piece she needs, one of only two or three pieces she
feels this about. She refers to the “density” and “gravity”
of expression of the works. The most important thing, she says,
is for the artist to have something to say. Certainly Grimaud
is unique in her interests and, indeed, in her career trajectory,
a trajectory marked by her willingness to follow her own path
and to be true to herself. Perhaps this is what we should respect
her most for.
hear a wide variety of music during the course of this DVD.
As well as the live performances, some recorded performances
are used: Brahms First (Warner 3984 21633-2), Gershwin Piano
Concerto (0630 19571-2) and Schumann Piano Concerto (0630 11727-2).
a way I could say that music saved me. I have no idea where
I would be today without it”, she says. It is good that she
is where she is. Grimaud is a searching artist and I am sure
she would be the first to agree that her journey is far from
complete. We are privileged to eavesdrop on her activities,
and to be able to conjoin this information with her discs and
her live performances.