Though they were born almost a century apart, French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet shares a special bond with fellow countryman Maurice Ravel (1875-1937).
One of his teachers, Lucette Descaves, was a student and friend of the composer’s. “She had performed Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand with him conducting,” said Thibaudet, who will perform the work with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in concerts April 5-7 and 10. “That’s such an amazing link. I always felt as though I knew Ravel. She would talk about him in the present tense, as if he were going to come through the door in the next second.”
When Thibaudet performed Ravel’s Concerto in G Major with the CSO a few seasons ago, he said, “The Ravel is a special piece for me. It’s actually the first concerto I ever played. I was 11 and I had won a competition. The prize was a performance with an orchestra. I asked my teacher if I could play the Ravel Concerto, and she said, ‘No, no, no! You play Mozart or Mendelssohn.’ But I insisted on Ravel, and she finally agreed. ‘OK, learn the first movement for me by next week and we’ll see.’ I did and she let me play the Ravel. It’s been in my repertoire ever since.”
Born in 1961 in Lyon, France, Thibaudet recalls his parents as music lovers. Though they were not professional musicians, “music, though, was very much part of the house,” he says. “I had met her [Lucette Descaves] when I was 11 and I started studying privately with her. When I entered the Paris Conservatory a couple of years later, I went into her class, but she soon retired because of her advancing age. After that, I studied with her at her home. She was like a grandmother to me. We were very close — a remarkable lady. I was always seeing her in Paris and playing for her. That was an incredible privilege and that’s why I teach. I want to pass on all those traditions. There are no more people around who knew Ravel.”
Though the composer was not especially prolific, in terms of writing for the piano, “every piece is perfect,” Thibaudet said. “Playing any of them is like going into the most beautiful shop and looking at the most beautiful object.”