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Helene Grimaud interview with All Classical Portland

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Interview with All Classical Portland's John Pitman

John Pitman's CD reviews spotlight recent recordings of classical music. As the music director, John auditions dozens of new releases every month, focusing on titles that stand out in terms of performance, repertoire or recording quality.

This installment focuses on pianist Hélène Grimaud. Known almost equally for her environmental concerns as her tremendous musical talent, Grimaud brings both areas of interest together in her new CD, Water (Deutsche Grammophon), the result of a collaboration with composer and producer, Nitin Sawney.  Ms. Grimaud, who founded the Wolf Conservation Center in New York in 1996, hopes that people think about the earth's precious resource, which in many parts of the world is extremely difficult to obtain for millions of people.  In my conversation with the French pianist, Ms. Grimaud tells me that her starting point, however, was purely musical:  Why have so many composers been drawn to water as a source of inspiration?  Water has the power to both give – and take – life, if one considers that it can be as ethereal as mist or clouds, to rivers and oceans.  Grimaud says she had to work hard to pare dozens of favorite pieces down to a manageable program that touches on many aspects of water in music.

The "transitions" created by Sawney, who is well-known around the world for his ability to collaborate with musicians of many different genres, bridge the realm of classical music to the present day, and the world of this art form to the rhythms of the earth (and water).  I enjoyed the transitions, as they create this sense of calm and, at the same time, progression through the hour of piano music.  Hélène Grimaud's choice of pieces come from French composers (particularly inspired by water, it seems), such as Debussy, Ravel and Fauré; to 20th century greats such as Toru Takemitsu, Leoš Janáček, and Isaac Albéniz.  My favorite discovery, thanks to Grimaud, is Luciano Berio's "Wasserklavier" (Water Piano), which sets the perfect tone for the music to follow.  The CD concludes with Debussy's powerful prelude, La Cathédrale engloutie (The Engulfed Cathedral), inspired by a legend of a cathedral that, once a year, emerges from the depths of the ocean, to appear only briefly, before submerging again.  Keep that image in your mind as you listen to Ms. Grimaud's performance.  Water, like music, can exist for only a moment before disappearing, and so both must be treasured.