Pianist Grimaud: Wolves are a way into music

Fri Sep 18, 2009 10:43am EDT
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By Michael Roddy

BUCHAREST (Reuters Life!) - Helene Grimaud, the French pianist whose work to protect wolves is almost as famous as her music career, is unaware her compatriot Brigitte Bardot angered Romanians by trying to save the stray dogs of Bucharest.

"I didn't know that," Grimaud, 39, said before giving a concert in the Romanian capital when told about the years-long campaign by the screen goddess turned animal rights activist to have the city's strays, which still haunt its back streets and parks, sterilized rather than put down.

But then Grimaud, although a native of Aix-en-Provence, that cradle of culture in the south of France, doesn't identify strongly with her native country.

Born into a Sephardic Jewish family, she is a loner who embraced the piano at the age of nine to channel an excess of energy into something productive and, since being discovered internationally in her teens, has never looked back.

Here's what she told Reuters about how conquering their fear of wolves could help people better appreciate classical music, why being left-handed can be a plus for a pianist and what it's like to have synaesthesia, a condition in which people attribute and see colors in their mind for numbers, letters or music.

For the record, the powerful performance she gave on Thursday night for the Enescu Festival in Bucharest's cavernous Palace Grand Hall of Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto with the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra was bronze-hued.

Q: Why does someone who has a successful recital, concert and recording career run a Wolf Conservation Center in Westchester County, north of New York City?

A: I created the Wolf Conservation Center which I'm very proud of and I just finished speaking to someone who asked how much it took away from my music and to be honest I'd have to say a lot but I wouldn't exchange it for anything in the world.   Continued...