Destinations | Perfect Weekend

Hélène Grimaud’s Lucerne

This summer, the French-born, award-winning pianist Hélène Grimaud will be touring the US, Europe and Ramallah. She lives near Lucerne.

May 06 2011
Claire Wrathall

“I’ve never counted the number of concerts I do each year, but it’s about 90, and when I’m on the road I rarely spend more than two nights a month at home. A perfect weekend for me, then, is one with no commitments, at home in Weggis, near Lucerne, with my partner Mat Hennek. He’s a photographer who also travels a lot, but we try to plan our schedules to coincide. The house is on the Rigi, surrounded by mountains – the Vitznauerstock, the Bürgenstock, Pilatus – and you can almost feel the energy they radiate, what we call la force tellurique, so it’s a great place to recharge.

So long as I’m not utterly exhausted, I like to get up early and watch the dawn. If I’m in a hotel, I love breakfast; it’s my favourite meal of the day and I can eat a tremendous amount. But at home I just have some tea and then we’ll take out our German shepherd, Chico. I can walk for hours, though it helps to have an animal to motivate you. I love to ride, too.

When we get back, we have something to eat. I don’t like to cook, so we tend to have what Germans call Brotzeit: breads, cheeses and raw vegetables. On tour I eat constantly in restaurants or from room service, so it’s nice to be able to eat simply.

That said, there are local restaurants we go to. Boulevard-Restaurant See-Café, by Weggis boat station on Lake Lucerne, is unpretentious, and we like The Grape at the Park Hotel Weggis, on a beautiful part of the lakeshore. The hotel also has Spa Cottages you can rent for a couple of hours, with whirlpools and steam rooms, which I find very relaxing. What makes it special, too, is that Rachmaninov lived here in the 1930s while he waited for his villa to be finished.

Even a rest day involves the piano. I try to practise for at least four hours, because the repertoire I’m playing at the moment is very demanding, and even if you’ve been working on something for weeks and everything’s going well, you still need to keep reconsidering it.

Every now and again, we’ll go to the movies in Lucerne. It’s about 35 minutes by car, or there’s a boat. It’s way too rare, though: the last film I saw was Avatar. And I very occasionally go to hear other pianists, which can influence my work. I went to a recital by Maurizio Pollini, all of whose recordings I knew but who I’d never heard live. It was an all-Chopin programme, and it rekindled my passion for his music. I came out so inspired and energised that I changed the programme for the recording I was planning.

We’re fortunate in Lucerne to have the KKL [concert hall]. It has an amazingly diverse programme of concerts, but I’m not usually around for the big summer festival unless I’m playing. If I am, I’m too busy with meetings and rehearsals to go home, so I stay at the Palace. It’s a lovely hotel: quiet, with wonderful views, and very good at looking after artists.

More likely, however, we’ll spend the evening listening to music at home, talking to friends, reading or watching DVDs. The BBC TV series Earth was marvellous. Every time I watch it, I find myself in awe of the processes of nature, which is the ultimate muse, I think, and affects everyone I know who’s involved in music or any sort of creation.

Sunday would ideally be the same again, though I’d probably find some domestic chores to do. I love cleaning and folding laundry: defined, satisfying tasks where you can see the beginning and the end, and measure the result – something that is almost impossible with music. And living in hotels, privileged as it is, is an abdication from all responsibility. This keeps things in perspective.

But the greatest luxury for me is to have time to think. I have a friend, a holistic vet, who says that we have to stop being “human doings’” and go back to being “human beings”. It couldn’t be truer. Everyone is getting more and more hectic, and that attitude is very unhealthy and stressful. If you are constantly busy, there’s no time for the imagination to develop.”

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