Classical Notes

A return to Boston for pianist Tiberghien

“America and Europe are really two very different musical worlds. It’s quite difficult sometimes to develop in both continents,” said Cédric Tiberghien.

Benjamin Ealovega

“America and Europe are really two very different musical worlds. It’s quite difficult sometimes to develop in both continents,” said Cédric Tiberghien.

Despite a number of acclaimed recordings and performances, Cédric Tiberghien has yet to give a recital here. The French pianist’s sole Boston visit came in March 2012, when he was one of a number of performers deputized by the Boston Symphony Orchestra for concerts originally to have been conducted by James Levine. He gave an ebullient performance of the Ravel Piano Concerto in G with conductor Christoph Eschenbach.

Thankfully, his local recital debut is at hand — a Celebrity Series of Boston concert at Longy’s Pickman Hall on Wednesday. It comes on the heels of a marvelous new recording of piano works by Karol Szymanowski, to which Tiberghien brings exactly the right quicksilver intensity. That’s especially the case in the three-movement “Masques,” which is in the middle of his Boston recital; also on the program are the first suite of Liszt’s travelogue, “Années de pèlerinage” (“Years of Pilgrimage”), and Ravel’s suite “Miroirs.”


Tiberghien, 38, spoke to the Globe this week from his Paris home, while his young son played in the background.

Q. You seem to have performed more frequently in Europe than in the United States. Was that on purpose or is that just how things have turned out?

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A. America and Europe are really two very different musical worlds. It’s quite difficult sometimes to develop in both continents. I know some wonderful artists in America who barely travel to Europe. And I have so many friends who have wonderful careers in Europe and they have nothing or are only starting in America. I’m actually playing more and more in America, working more and more with very nice orchestras — Seattle, Cincinnati, Cleveland. So it’s really coming together.

Q. What’s the thinking behind this program? Is it just a collection of pieces that go well together or are there deeper connections among the pieces?

A. I always try to find a meaning in my programs. In this case, the first thing I wanted to play was the Szymanowski — because I recorded it and because I think it’s really worth being discovered by the audience. And it was composed 100 years ago, so I think it’s time for it to be a little bit better known.


And I said, what can I put together with Szymanowski? The heritage that we can feel [in “Masques”] is both from Liszt and Ravel. Because the pianism, the virtuosity, is very, very demanding. They were composed just after a very long trip of Szymanowski to North Africa and the Mediterranean, and he wanted to bring back some of that color and intensity. It’s exactly what Liszt did in the “Années de pèlerinage . . .” And I think the process of composition was exactly the same.

Then you can find some very fine connections. For example, the last piece of the Liszt is called “Les cloches de Genève,” “The Bells of Geneva.” And the last piece of “Miroirs” is called “La vallée des cloches,” “The Valley of Bells.” In “Masques,” there is the “Serenade of Don Juan,” which is very close to the “Alborada del gracioso” of Ravel. So there’s many little connections that I think really make this program work.

Q. Your Szymanowski recording is fantastic. Why are you so drawn to him as a composer? And what in particular does his music need from a performer?

A. My first meeting with Szymanowski was many years ago, in the Symphony No. 4, which has a fantastic piano part. This is an incredible masterpiece that very few people perform, I don’t know why. And then I recorded the complete music for violin and piano with my regular recital partner, Alina Ibragimova. And then I thought, now I have to go to the piano music.

There is, of course, very complex polyphony that you never find in, for example, Liszt. I think he really heard a complete orchestra. . . . When you see the score, it looks very complex — you really have to think a lot about what you want to say through it. But it also gives the impression that it’s completely improvised. It’s extremely precisely written, but the listener has the impression that it just flows, that it’s inventing . . .

Q. That it’s inventing itself as it goes.

A. Exactly. People can’t believe it’s so precisely written. That’s an aspect I love very much.

Q. Is there any contemporary music that you like to play?

A. Yes, of course. I play some Pierre Boulez, I played Messiaen and Dutilleux when they were still alive. Julian Anderson, a wonderful British composer . . . and Thomas Adès, who I think is an extraordinary writer. And Philippe Hersant, who wrote several pieces for me.

I think it’s quite important for a performer to be involved, because the music is still alive. For some people, [music] finished with Wagner or Debussy, or perhaps Bartok. But when you talk about 20th century, or 21st century, they think, Oh, it’s not music anymore. And I think it’s a mistake. . . . George Benjamin, for example. Every time I play [his music], people say, “Oh, wow, it’s just incredible.” It’s part of my mission.

Michelle V. Agins/New York Times

Lorin Maazel will be guest conductor when the BSO plays seven concerts during a 10-day tour of Asia in May.

Q. How much of the year do you spend touring?

A. Basically, it’s all along the year. But I try to keep at least a month off during summertime, so that I can be with my family. This is very important. I have some rules. For example, I never leave home for more than three weeks in a row. This is an absolute rule. If there’s a promoter who asks for a tour that is three weeks and one day, I say no. Because this is important for my personal balance, and of course, important for my family. Being a musician is really important, but there are other priorities.
I need everything.

BSO tour details

The BSO has announced details of its Asia tour in May. The orchestra will play seven concerts — four in China, three in Japan — over a 10-day period under guest conductor Lorin Maazel. Among repertoire highlights are performances of Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique” and the Fifth Symphonies of Tchaikovsky and Mahler. Also on the program are performances of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with Janine Jansen and Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” with pianist Behzod Abduraimov, who makes his BSO debut in April in Boston.

Interview was edited and condensed. David Weininger can be reached at
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