In the stuffy and imperious world of concert pianists, Jean-Yves Thibaudet gets nearly as much attention for his attire as for his musicianship: The showman has a penchant for sporting fire-engine-red socks with his antique tails. But thankfully his virtuoso playing has not exactly gone unnoticed.
Now billed as the Champion of the French Impressionists, Thibaudet made his symphony orchestra debut at the ripe old age of nine. The child prodigy's choice of music? A concerto by Maurice Ravel, of course. After winning the gold medal from the Conservatory in Lyons at age 12, Thibaudet attended the Paris Conservatoire, where his natural affinity for impressionism was nurtured by teacher Lucille Descaves, herself a student of Faure's and Ravel's. During his teen years Thibaudet racked up musical competition victories in Italy, Japan and America. By 1981 the 18-year-old was being heralded as a sensation, and today, at 38, he is one of the most in-demand soloists on the classical circuit. His elegant playing, unique sense of color, brilliant technique and revealing interpretations -- particularly of romantic and impressionistic works -- have also led to a successful recording career, with more than two dozen albums to his credit.
While Thibaudet has built his reputation on French impressionism, he's no one-trick pony. He has explored the works of Chopin and Liszt, Wagner and Rachmaninov. And in 1997 the classical pianist took a left turn to record Conversations with Bill Evans, an album of compositions by the late jazz pianist whose style was highly, you guessed it, impressionistic. The record was an impressive jazz effort by a classical musician and earned Thibaudet Germany's Echo Award in 1998. Last year he released an album of Duke Ellington compositions, and while no one will mistake him for Herbie Hancock or Marcus Roberts, Thibaudet's appreciation of jazz is obviously sincere.
But this weekend in Houston Thibaudet will stick with the stuff that made him a star: impressionism and romanticism, Debussy's 12 preludes, Book II and selections by Chopin. You can bet on his famous footwear, too.
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Jean-Yves Thibaudet performs at the Wortham Center's Cullen Theater, 500 Texas, on Friday, January 14, at 8 p.m. For more information, contact the Society for the Performing Arts at (713)227-5134. Tickets range from $22 to $32.