For the Trill of It: Jean-Yves Thibaudet

Stephanie Jones on August 3, 2011
Jean-Yves Thibaudet

With a European tour, an American tour, and a Gershwin album, it’s safe to say the French pianist and artist extraordinaire Jean-Yves Thibaudet is a busy man. Even as I write this, Thibaudet is on his way to an airport in Boise, Idaho, then flying out just in time for a performance closing out a weeklong concertizing streak. The interesting part is, he likes it that way — always something new to learn, some amazing city to see, some beautiful piece of music to play. Fortunately, he also found time to chat with SFCV about his upcoming concerts and this past 2010–2011 concert season.

Thibaudet shows his interest in new music at the Cabrillo Festival this weekend, where he will play two relatively new works.

Tell me about the concert series in Europe and American this past January and February.

I’m constantly on tour. ... I play probably 140 to 150 concerts. So, it’s a lot of time.

Do you enjoy traveling so much? And who makes up your schedule?

Yes, I love [it]. It’s something I love to do. Otherwise I wouldn’t do so much. But it’s all done with my manager and all the different presenters. I mean, nobody forced me to do anything. I only do it because I want to do it.

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What has been your favorite concert so far this year? What about composers?

Oh, that’s impossible to say. Every concert! Last night was my favorite concert until the next one. ...[Composers] — no. I like everything. At the moment, I play pretty much everything. You know, it’s just like food. You cannot just name one. Maybe periods. Maybe I like [the] Romantic Period, the French impressionist. It’s all kind of — but I cannot pick. It’s impossible.

Your debut as a 7-year-old piano prodigy is well-known. Did you realize you had a talent, or were you aware of what was going on at the time?

It was fun and I enjoyed it, but I don’t think I was realizing anything at that age. You just play [but] you don’t realize it until probably you get in your teens or a little bit later in your life. And then when I was about 15 or 17, then I realized that was what I was going to do with my life. In France, we have this pretty amazing [school] format where we can do four to six [sessions] or as [artists] we can do all the general classes, of course. Then in the afternoon, we have music. So we can do it together. It enabled you to have enough time to practice and do your [typical] studies. So I was able to do all my studies that way.

I think there really is something the audience feels — the electricity — there’s something that’s always between the stage and the audience. That’s why we play concerts and I think that’s why the audience come to the concerts too

Your induction into the Hollywood Bowl Hall Fame in 2010 — did that take you by surprise?

It was great. That’s one of the really great memories — great moments — of my life. It was very special. But I was very surprised, yes. Not too many classical artists have had that honor. It’s always a pop artist or some kind of other [artist] or jazz [artist]. That’s really something that meant a lot to me. It was really a present to me.

What makes a concert unforgettable or memorable to you?

Well, there are so many concerts that were really more, in my eyes, a kind of turning point. ... To have a great concert, you need to have a series of talents. If you don’t have that, it’s no use. Then you need to have a series of hard parts because the talents, you know, they have to develop. And then you have a series of opportunities. Just pure luck, meaning [being] there at the right time. Somebody cancels and you get to play. And I’ve had quite a bit of those chances in my life. It’s true, and it truly has helped. I played for [Arturo Benedetto] Michelangeli, who canceled a concert at the beginning, when I was really young, like 18 or 19, and my agent got me to replace him the day after. It was really nice. That was a great [thing]. That was my first paid concert.

You released your album Gershwin last year and it appeared to do very well. Are you currently preparing another album?

Probably not this year. I’m working on two different albums but can’t really say what it is right now. You never know which one is going to come out first and how it’s going to be.

You have an affinity for jazz. Why do you love jazz so much?

It’s just, for me, the relaxation of it. First of all, I just admire too many jazz artists, because they are great artists. And it’s really relaxation for me. I play a little bit just for my own pleasure but it’s mainly really music that relaxes me. When I listen to classical music I listen with different ears. I don’t think the word pleasure indicates — I think with [different] ears, I concentrate. I don’t get to relax. Jazz, for me, is my time where I can really be relaxed. ... I listen to it in my car, at home, all the time.

Do you play any other instruments?

No, not anymore. I played the violin between ages 9 and 13. And I think it was a great experience. I think it’s important when you play chamber music or with an orchestra, it’s always good if you know how each instrument works. Just technically, what they can do and what they can’t do; all that. It was very interesting, but I don’t think I really had any specialty in the violin. It was clear that I [ought] to stick to the piano.

What are you looking forward to most when you walk out on stage?

I think it’s really the contact with the audience. I mean, there’s the meaning of the concert — what makes it special and different from the CD at home. It’s a live concert. I think there really is something the audience also feels — the electricity — there’s something that’s always between the stage and the audience. That’s why we play concerts and I think that’s why the audience come to the concerts too. I think you feel that when you come on stage ... it takes a little time at the beginning. Then there’s one moment when you feel everyone is completely there and that incredible silence — all that is really very exciting.