Cleveland Orchestra Preview: A Chat With Guest Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet

By Mike Telin

This week at Severance Hall, renowned French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet returns to Cleveland, a city that played an important role early in his career when he won second prize at the Robert Casadesus Piano Competition in 1979 (now the Cleveland International Piano Competition).

“My first trip ever to the United States was for the Cleveland competition, and it absolutely played an important role in my career,” Thibaudet said in a telephone conversation this morning from his hotel. “After that I have had many wonderful performances with the Orchestra here and on tour with Maestro Ashkenazy along with the Rachmaninoff Concerto recordings. We’ve had a lot of memories together.”

Thibaudet will play Franz Liszt’s second piano concerto with guest conductor Fabio Luisi and The Cleveland Orchestra on Thursday, March 12 at 7:30 pm and Saturday, March 14 at 8:00 pm. The Thursday and Saturday programs will also include Luca Francesconi’s Cobalt, Scarlet: Two Colors of Dawn, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.

Thibaudet made his debut with The Cleveland Orchestra in 1991 at Blossom Music Center, performing Liszt’s first concerto with Mariss Jansons. “I remember it very well,” he said, quickly pointing out that the concerto that he will perform this week is quite different.

“I love the second concerto. I think I may like it even more than the first,” he said. “It’s a very modern piece, especially considering when it was written. It begins right away with a theme in the woodwinds, then the piano takes it over. It’s like one cell that moves into many different shapes, forms, tempos and moods. The entire piece is connected by that theme, which is so beautiful with all of its modulations. Liszt plays with it and puts it in every context he can think of. And the concerto is all in one connected movement, which was quite modern at the time.”

Thibaudet finds the concerto to contain all the brilliant virtuosity that you would expect from Liszt. “But there are a lot of beautiful, introverted, magical moments as well. There’s also a lot of interaction between the soloist and the orchestra, which is one reason why I’m really looking forward to playing it here in Cleveland,” he said. 

Read the rest of the chat with Thibaudet at
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