Exclusive: Hélène Grimaud comes clean on Abbado

Exclusive: Hélène Grimaud comes clean on Abbado


norman lebrecht

February 05, 2014

In conversation with our San Francisco friend Elijah Ho, the French pianist talks for the first time about the July 2011 bust-up over a cadenza in a concerto that ended her cherished relationship with Claudio Abbado.

Among other interesting things, Hélène says:


abbado grimaud



I think I was eighteen the very first time I played for Claudio. I played with him later that same year, and we worked together regularly until 2011. Just looking at the number of different concerts we collaborated on, with the different orchestras and repertoire, I can only have loved him. We wouldn’t have collaborated together if that love and respect wasn’t clearly there for many years. Even thinking about the performance, the opening of that Lucerne festival with the Brahms D minor – why was that scheduled in the first place ? Well, because we had played the Brahms D minor together a year or so earlier, in Caracas, with the Simón Bolívar orchestra.

But even then, it doesn’t mean that people don’t go their separate ways…

Read the rest of her comments here.


  • Mathieu says:

    The dispute was not about a Brahms concerto, but about Mozart’s 23rd. She wanted to play Busoni’s cadenza. God knows why.

    • RW2013 says:

      Because He saw that Busoni’s cadenza was good.

      • Mathieu says:

        I beg to differ. Do not misundersted me, I love a lot of Busoni’s works, but this specific cadenza is not worth breaking up with the most charismatic conductor of your generation. (Although the way Abbado behaved in this matter wasn’t totally beyond reproach).

  • It was the cadenza according to Ms. Grimaud. But read the NY Times article which appeared back in 2011:


    The explanation given by Michael Haefliger, quoted in the above article, seems to indicate that the rift went much deeper. But being the gentleman and diplomat that he was, we can only speculate about the rest.

  • R. James Tobin says:

    Thank you, Robert Hairgrove, for providing the New York Times URL. The recent interview gave no clue about what the dispute was about. A sad event.

    What I did find of interest in Grimaud’s interview was her affirmation of the important relevance of a composer’s biography, something I agree with, but which will no doubt have formalists rolling eyes or grinding teeth.

  • robcat2075 says:

    In light of the miniscule sales of classical recordings it’s even harder to fathom the basis for a knock-down drag-out fight over a cadenza in one.

  • Brian says:

    DG could have saved the situation and perhaps a friendship with a happy compromise simply by including two first movements of Mozart K.488 on the CD, one with the Busoni and the other the Mozart cadenza and enable the user to decide. It would have been a selling point.

    In another galaxy and far far away, Toscanini allowed Dorfmann to play her preferred Reinecke cadenza in Beethoven 1 in the live broadcast performance (1944) but she played Beethoven for the 1945 RCA recording. And they remained friends.

    • David H. Jun. says:

      Toscanini had friends?

    • Beethoven left us at least two cadenzas (?) for his 1st concerto. The later one, which is performed rather often, was composed much later, very much in his late stilistic period (think Hammerklavier sonata or the Diabelli variations). Considering the very early style of that concerto, some people find the late Beethoven cadenza already a little anachronistic, even if it was composed by the master himself.

      And no one seems to be bothered by his cadenza(s) to Mozart KV 466 in d minor — although I actually prefer the one that Alfred Brendel wrote.

  • Macro85205 says:

    While a great fan of Abbado, my view is that, barring some extreme situation, a conductor should defer to the soloist on choice of cadenza. But perhaps there was more to the story.