“We have to believe in the works so that their message can reach the audience.” Jean-Yves Thibaudet Answers Questions about the Festival Theme of “Psyche”

jean- Yves Thibaudet bei LUCERNE FESTIVAL im Sommer, 2010 (Foto: Priska Ketterer/ LUCERNE FESTIVAL)

Jean-Yves Thibaudet at LUCERNE FESTIVAL in Summer, 2010 (Photo: Priska Ketterer/ LUCERNE FESTIVAL)

What was your earliest musical memory?
I can especially remember two recordings: Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with Arthur Grumiaux as the soloist – my mothered particularly loved this and would play it often – and the suites from Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé. I must have still been very young, perhaps five years old; in any case, this was before I had started taking my first lessons at the conservatory.

What formative musical experience confirmed your desire to become a musician?
There were two times – when I was five and then seven years old – that my parents took me along with them to concerts that Arthur Rubinstein gave in Lyon. After the second concert we even went backstage after the performance and spoke with him for a quarter hour. Rubinstein was for me at the time the most extraordinary personality I had ever met. Not that I was really able to appreciate his achievement as a pianist, but as a person he became an unforgettable part of my memory. He was so friendly, warm-hearted, genuine, and kind to me; what deeply impressed me above all was the exuberant joy that he radiated when playing and also in conversation. After that I knew that one day I wanted to become just like this man. And that I wanted to travel all around the world as a pianist.

What work or works do you find to be extremely sad?
What has recently happened to me several times is that I’ve performed in orchestral concerts whose second half was devoted to Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique, but with completely different conductors. So recently I’ve heard this symphony again rather often, and I have to say, it is one of the most poignant and heart-rending works I know. Especially in the last movement, you can can sense a torment that is almost unbearable – [you sense] that something bursts and shatters to pieces. And that is exactly what must have unsettled Tchaikovsky when he was composing his last symphony.

And what strikes you as the epitome of joy and high spirits?
The first thing that comes to mind is Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphony! It offers a genuine explosion of joy, naturally on the highest spiritual level. And yet you don’t have to be religious or know the entire mystical background that inspired Messiaen to compose it to empathize with this joyfulness – the Turangalîla Symphony can really affect anyone, whether they are believers or not. At the end, when I arrive at the tenth and last movement of this 80-minute symphony, as a performer I feel like a part of this gigantic, climactic cosmos of happiness.

Is there music that moves you so strongly in emotional terms before a performance that you actually shudder? If so, why?
No, that doesn’t happen because before a performance I’m totally focused on the works and I can’t indulge in different feelings.

Is identifying with a work psychologically a process that is indispensable for a convincing performance to succeed?
Whenever I’m learning a new work that isn’t yet so familiar, first of all I want to find out as much as possible about the composer and the background of how the work was written. I don’t know whether this can be equated with identification, but I believe you should immerse yourself as deeply as possible in the intellectual world of the works. It’s a bit like what you see with actors who have to find their way into their roles: we musicians, too, embody the pieces that we perform. We have to believe in these works so that their message can reach the audience.

Do you think music has the power to heal?
I consider music to be one of the most effective medications there is – and it’s no coincidence that it is used in many therapies. Music has a mysterious power that can heal many things, especially when it relates to processes in the brain. I have friends who have suffered accidents or even a stroke who assure me that it was music above all that brought them back to life again. But regardless of medical aspects, music also helps us in daily life. It makes us smile, gives us joy and peace, releases the most varied feelings.

What famous work from music history leaves you completely cold?
There are pieces that I like and ones that I don’t like. But even if I hate a work, it doesn’t leave me cold …

Do you believe people become “better” through music: more intelligent, more communicative, more sensitive?
No question about it, all of that is true. Music has magical powers.

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