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My Favorite Place: Hélène Grimaud

An illustration of French pianist Hélène Grimaud.

Photo: Illustrated by Andy Friedman

“My first concert performance in Berlin was fifteen years ago—I have to pinch myself to believe it has been fifteen years—and I performed Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Berliner Philharmoniker in the iconic concert hall. Claudio Abbado was conducting. Ever since then I’ve had a sentimental connection to the city. If you have a good first experience in a place, it tends to repeat itself, and somehow that belief has always been confirmed for me in Berlin. It’s very much an adoptive hometown and creative retreat, not just for me and other musicians but also for painters, sculptors, and architects.

“A great hall has its own identity, and the asymmetrical Berliner Philharmonie, on the edge of the Tiergarten, is like no other concert hall I know. It’s a masterpiece, designed by German architect Hans Scharoun in the 1960’s. There is a sense of vastness in a venue that accommodates more than two thousand people. But at the same time there is a true sense of intimacy with the audience when I sit down to perform.

“Acoustics are tremendously important. Every note I play is borne out of the previous one—so what happens to sound in a space actually creates the music itself. In a concert there is a physicality to the sound, and at the Philharmonie it surrounds you. I have returned many times. When I play there, the music goes right through the core of my being.”

French pianist Hélène Grimaud’s new album, Résonances, is available now on iTunes. She is also cofounder of the Wolf Conservation Center (nywolf.org), in South Salem, New York.

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