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Gerald Carpenter: CAMA to Host French Pianist Hélène Grimaud

Solo recital will be part of Wednesday's program at the Lobero

The Community Arts Music Association’s “Masterseries at the Lobero” will offer its first concert of the 2011-12 season, a solo recital by the extraordinary young French pianist Hélène Grimaud, at 8 p.m. Wednesday in the Lobero Theatre, 33 E. Canon Perdido St. in Santa Barbara.

Pianist Hélène Grimaud will perform Wednesday at the Lobero Theatre.
Pianist Hélène Grimaud will perform Wednesday at the Lobero Theatre. (Mat Hennik photo)

Grimaud will perform four works (not including whatever encores we can coax out of her): the Piano Sonata No. 8 in A-Minor, K. 310 by Wolfgang Mozart, the Piano Sonata, Opus 1 by Alban Berg, the Sonata in B-Minor for Solo Piano by Franz Liszt and the Romanian Folk Dances, BB 68 (1915) by Béla Bartók.

Grimaud was born in Aix-en-Provence and had her first piano lessons there, before moving on, at age 12, to the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Paris. By the time she came to the attention of Daniel Barenboim, in 1987, she was already on her way to being famous, having won many awards, including the Cannes Classical Award at MIDEM. Nevertheless, the meeting with Barenboim was apparently a fateful one. Her career went nova after her audition with him. And the program for the Lobero concert could almost be said to recapitulate Barenboim’s career as a soloist and recording artist.

Now, even the most superficial glance at the attached photo will tell you that Grimaud is quite easy to look at. Of course, all else being equal, who wouldn’t prefer a handsome or beautiful virtuoso to a plain or ugly one? Yet I think it a bad trend, in this video age, to choose musicians by their looks, rather than their music. You can lose your way pretty quick because all else is seldom equal.

But it seems to me that Grimaud is exploiting her beauty in a completely acceptable way — by getting us to come and listen to a program that under other conditions would be, except the Mozart, a damned hard sell in Santa Barbara. The Liszt sonata, for instance, is one of his greatest works, and a masterpiece by almost any measure, yet it is scarcely his most popular piece — except with pianists. I have two recordings, one each by Vladimir Horowitz and Anton Rubinstein, and I have been wrestling for 30 years with the gap between the sonata’s reputation and my appreciation of its labyrinthine grandeur. Maybe this will turn the corner.

The problem with the Berg is just the opposite. I love it, but because of the Arnold Schoenberg associations, I can hardly get my friends to listen to it if they don’t know it already. To be sure, Berg was a disciple of Schoenberg when he wrote it, but the piece shows almost no sign of his master’s influence. Scriabin, yes, but without the feverish mystical rubbish; Claude Debussy, too, sans the indecisiveness. But of Schoenberg, only the hyper-romantic Gurrelieder seems to have contributed to the sonata’s soundscape. It is a beautiful, uncanny piece.

For tickets to Grimaud, call or drop by the Lobero Theatre box office at 805.963.0761 or 33 E. Canon Perdido St., or click here.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer.

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