They make a nice couple, the piano and the orchestra, and hearing a great performer can fully justify the comparison of the relationship between them in a concerto to what lovers experience in a real-life romance. From giddy infatuation and breathless ardor to rancorous conflict or deep serenity, it’s all there — in the form of music. This is especially true when the soloist has a particular feeling for the composer. Few concerts can boast a more romantic connection in this regard than the one this weekend at the Granada Theatre, where Hélène Grimaud will join the Santa Barbara Symphony for the Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor of Johannes Brahms. The show is being billed as a Salute to Love, because Grimaud is a passionate lover of Brahms and of this piece, which she has been playing in public for three decades. Most recently, Grimaud released a CD that unites the Concerto No. 1 with Brahms’s Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, both of which she’ll play
Calling the Concerto No. 1 in D Minor “a whole universe unto itself,” Grimaud brings attention to the majestic range of this immense (51-minute) composition. “This music started speaking to me very early on,” said Grimaud by phone from her home in upstate New York, where she maintains a sanctuary for wolves (just one of her extra-musical concerns). “I’ve had a strong relationship with the Concerto No. 1 from the beginning,” she said, referring in particular to one of her earliest recordings. “But I always want to do a piece justice, and now that almost the same amount of time has passed for me as for Brahms between the composition of Concerto No. 1 and Concerto No. 2, I wanted to record them both together. I could not imagine life without this music, and that led me to persevere with Concerto No. 2.”
When asked about the story often told that Brahms wrote the Concerto No. 1 in response to a failed suicide attempt by his friend and musical mentor Robert Schumann, Grimaud responds with a categorical affirmative, saying that she “absolutely sees the work as autobiographical, and as written just as much for Robert as for Clara [Schumann, wife of the composer and a close friend of Brahms]. There’s such a range of emotions in it — from tenderness to tumult, revolt, and violence. When you listen to the second and third subjects of the first movement, you hear it all.” Returning to Santa Barbara after a highly successful recital at the Lobero courtesy of the CAMA Masterseries in November of 2011, Grimaud brings a lively intelligence and a broad outlook, along with her keyboard virtuosity, as can be seen from her memoir, Wild Harmonies: A Life of Music and Wolves. With her taste for musical experimentation and her single-minded pursuit of emotional truth, Grimaud’s solo spot makes an ideal complement to the full program that maestro Nir Kabaretti has devised, which also includes music by Ravel (Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2), Tchaikovsky (Romeo and Juliet), and Elgar (Salut d’Amour).
“The concerts will be exciting,” said Grimaud of her upcoming appearances, “Maybe that goes without saying, but what I hope is that the quality of the emotion in Brahms’s writing comes through, because when that happens, everything changes. It can alter one’s sense of time.”
The Santa Barbara Symphony presents Salute to Love with guest artist Hélène Grimaud on Saturday, February 15, at 8 p.m. and on Sunday, February 16, at 3 p.m. at the Granada Theatre (1214 State St.). For tickets and information, call (805) 899-2222 or visit thesymphony.org.