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Mixed Company is written by Saint Paul Sunday staff, giving you a behind-the-scenes look at the show and the classical music they love. We welcome your online comments.

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August 16, 2006


We recorded this program, Hélène Grimaud's second for Saint Paul Sunday, at our favorite New York City space, the concert hall at the American Academy of Arts and Letters. It seemed especially fitting for her. The daughter of linguists, Hélène Grimaud's first artistic explorations were with writers and books (the German Romantic poet Novalis in particular); music came a little later.

I'll never forget a quiet few minutes she and I had after the recording. With her beautiful performances still ringing in my ears, a young assistant at the institute gave us an impromptu tour of some adjacent manuscript and meeting rooms. He showed us a sheaf of handwritten scores (one by Copland) as well as a high majestic library space where Academy fellows gather in the silent presence of countless first editions.

You can hear Novalis's searching poetry in Hélène's playing...there are no doubt many other writers and musicians humming with life there too. For me, there's a delicious paradox to her artistry. On the one hand, her vision is uncompromising—she seems to know exactly where she'll take us and does so with great daring. On the other hand, she?s remarkably free—liberated of preconceptions and faithful to her own voice. The combination is exhilarating.

One of the works she performs this week embraces this paradox wonderfully: John Corigliano's "Fantasia on an Ostinato," which uses the contours of Beethoven's seventh symphony as the outer structure for free-form candor within. In Hélène?s hands, it's spellbinding.

Posted by Vaughn Ormseth at August 16, 2006 10:50 AM



When Helene Grimaud began playing Corigliano's "Fantasia on an Ostinato," I happened to be looking at online photos of the surface of Mars taken by the Mars Rovers. The music was the perfect ethereal accompaniment to those images and helped me to feel the stark and distant, yet complex, beauty of another planet. (Now I know that Corigliano is more appropriate to Mars than Holst).

By Ashley Dumas at June 5, 2005 10:34 AM


I'm interested in the CD's from the Sunday sessions. The number you have listed as the latest is seven, yey ther are only five shown. Are ther others?

By John Stone at June 5, 2005 3:41 PM


I've never heard John Corigliano’s “Fantasia on an Ostinato” before, but Helene played it with such control (required by the vast tonal changes) and great technique, that I cannot imagine it played any better--by anyone.

She's a complex and interesting woman. My guess is that she'll have success in the many careers she'll undertake. Can't wait for her first book.

John Niesyn
Fairfield, CT

By John Niesyn at June 5, 2005 11:17 PM


First, for John S's question: we have made seven SPS CDs of performances, but only five are still in print. Since you can't buy the other two, we didn't show those two on the website.

I was completely transfixed by Helene's Fantasia on an Onstinato. As in 'stop everything, sit down, stop writing and listen' transfixed. And I kept listening. What did you think of Brahms and Rachmaninoff that she played? It was quite different than the interpretations I've heard other pianists play.

By Suzanne Schaffer at June 6, 2005 11:21 AM


Like the comments below on Grimaud's Corigliano, I had my own little epiphany while listening...tuned in of a rainy Sunday morning, perfect for watching the drops meander down a city window. The music somehow grabbed my attention in the midst of a noisy morning routine and held it. Then somehow that gray fluid landscape outside became not just an ordinary rainy day at all but a moment of life worth acknowledging and being grateful for. Though not the composers' intention, a little moment of the holy.

By Brian Newhouse at June 6, 2005 2:24 PM