I didn’t know much about Hélène Grimaud that day, other than she was a pianist who was receiving worldwide acclaim. Well, maybe, I didn’t even know that, because when they pulled the piano onto the stage, I asked my husband where she would stand. He then reminded me that she was not a violinist. I chuckled in embarrassment when I remembered having Chinese takeout a few times while we sat in his den a few months prior and listened to her play piano concertos. The conversations during those times were poor, as he would start out quite attentive to me, but then he would disappear into the various classical movements with her. I suppose one could call it a love affair of sorts, as her music drowned out all of my presence, and he escaped into Hélène’s world.
On the night of the concert, we were second row center from the front, and I wasn’t exactly thrilled about the seats. I felt they would be too close and would offer little, if any sound acoustics. Come to find out, the acoustics were fine. And so was the view.
Hélène walked out onto the stage wearing a sparkly headband and all cream colors that night, including her boots. I know this because that was my view for the next hour or two. Sounds less than exciting, I guess, but what ensued during her interpretation of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor was far from boring. With conductor, Yannick Nézet-Séguin to her side and the L'Orchestre Métropolitain behind her, Hélène moved through each piece with a connection I hadn’t seen from any musician before.
Immediately before her solos, Hélène’s body moved in a circular, winding pattern. This was the only time that I could see her expression. Her head moved back, her eyes closed, and her boots moved forward, readying themselves on top of the pedals. This was followed by a fierce expression over to the conductor, as if she became entranced with the music. And when she played, that same intensity was transferred to the keys, and her boots moved just as deliberately as she did.
At times, Hélène would be loud, almost rough on the keys, and the boots pounced on the pedals with the same rigor, laces slapping downward. Other times, Hélène's hands would float ever so gently across the keys, and her boots would become as still and intricate as her melody, lightly touching the pedals and allowing the audience to become more intimate with the piece. After playing, she would slide her hand down and pull up on the stool, resting and stretching her hands between solos. Her boots would wait also, sometimes slightly tapping the pedals as if making sure of their whereabouts. Her expression through those boots captured me, just as strongly as her playing, and I remember thinking that I was looking at a true virtuoso -- one who had a talent that was unmistakable and without question.
I've heard numerous other solo artists before, but I have never heard someone as gifted as Hélène. This time, I went on the journey into her world with my husband, but I think I’m probably the only one in the audience who was also mesmerized by her boots. Thank you to Hélène, for sharing her gift of music, as well as the passion, no matter what the view. Guess I will never mistake her for a violinist again.
For pictures from practice sessions and this concert, see: https://www.flickr.com/photos/orchestremetropolitain/sets/72157644800464899/
For future concert information, see her website at: http://helenegrimaud.com