The remarkable French pianist, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, will be at the Music Academy of the West for a couple of days, as part of the Samuel B. and Margaret C. Mosher “Guest Artists in Residence” series. While he is here, M. Thibaudet will lead a solo piano masterclass (1 p.m. Monday at Hahn Hall at Miraflores, 1070 Fairway Road) and play a solo recital (8 p.m. Monday, also at Hahn Hall). The recital program will be devoted to the works of Maurice Ravel.
Thibaudet was born in Lyons, and although neither of his parents was a professional musician, they were both, as we used to say, “musical.” His father played the violin, and his mother was a more than competent pianist, who started her son early on this instrument. He entered the Lyons Conservatory at the age of 5, and made his first public appearance at age 7. When he was 12, he won a Lyons Conservatory gold medal, and went on to the Paris Conservatory, where he studied with Aldo Ciccolini and Lucette Descaves.
Considering Thibaudet’s program, I venture to suggest that it was his study with Ciccolini that had the decisive influence on his subsequent career. That master, born in Naples in 1925 and blessedly still with us, is one of many Italians who have had an immense impact on French art and culture — Cardinal Jules Mazarin, Jean-Baptiste Lully and Yves Montand, for instance.
Ciccolini, who became a French citizen in 1969, is a pianist of Olympian brilliance and engaging sympathy, who, in his recitals and recordings, likes to explore the works of a single composer, rather than provide samplers and variety packs. He has recorded the complete sonata cycles of Mozart and Beethoven, and two separate cycles of the complete piano works of Erik Satie (the EMI Satie recordings, with the Picasso sketch of the composer on the covers, were standard equipment for intellectual American music lovers in the 1960s).
His recordings of the entire solo piano works of Janáček and of Schumann have won prestigious awards. One of my most prized possessions is Ciccolini’s set of the five Saint-Saëns piano concertos, plus the delicious “Septet.”
Ciccolini has been such an ardent and persuasive advocate of the piano music of Debussy and Ravel that I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to believe that he was able to impart his enthusiasms, and his methodology, to dazzling young pupil, Thibaudet. The soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf — herself no mean judge of pianists, or of men — said of Ciccolini “I have hardly met a more wonderful partner and a more delightful companion.”
Ravel’s piano music occupies a special place in his oeuvre. He was a charismatic pianist himself, and scarcely any solo piano music casts such a powerful spell from the first notes.
Tickets to Jean-Yves Thibaudet are $40 and can be purchased at the door, by calling 805.969.8787, or click here to purchase tickets online.
— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.