At this Berliner Philharmoniker concert, two performers who stand out in our times as extraordinary encounter each other: the French pianist Hélène Grimaud, known not only as a sensitive and idiosyncratic interpreter of the piano repertoire ranging from Bach to Bartók but also as a committed animal rights activist, campaigning for the survival of a fascinating species since founding her Wolf Conservation Center more than 15 years ago. And Valery Gergiev, the sensitive eccentric, whose career had its start in 1976 when he won first prize at the Herbert von Karajan Conducting Competition, before he gave the Mariinsky Theatre, so steeped in tradition, a new lease on life, and developed into one of the most sought-after orchestral conductors of his generation on the international scene.
For this concert with the Berliner Philharmoniker from 2015, the “most influential present-day Russian conductor”, according to Die Zeit, conducts a programme rich in contrasts: first, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto with Hélène Grimaud as the soloist, then Sergei Prokofiev’s Sixth Symphony. The G-major concerto was the last concert piano composition that Beethoven, who was losing his hearing, was able to launch as soloist. In contrast, Prokofiev’s Sixth, premiered some 140 years later and banned shortly thereafter by the Soviet cultural authorities, is not an example of artistic borderline experiences, but rather musically works through a human crisis of hitherto unprecedented scale: the Second World War.