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Hélène Grimaud: Living with Wolves
Hélène Grimaud (piano), with various artists
Director: Rainer E. Moritz
NTSC 16:9 DVD-5 LPCM Stereo
EMI CLASSICS 2165759 [58:00] 


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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. 

This 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. 

Her 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. 

Then, 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. 

The 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. 

Surprisingly 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. 

We 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). 

“In 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.

Colin Clarke


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