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About this Piece

When American lyric soprano Renée Fleming and French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet began making music together more than 20 years ago, Fleming was seeking “a collaborator, not an accompanist,” and songs that “had to be pianistically interesting as well as beautiful vocally.” In the multicultural, multilingual, and multitalented Thibaudet, she certainly found what she was looking for: a musical, spiritual, and even sartorial soulmate. As one fashion-conscious critic observed, Thibaudet (famous for his dazzling shoes) and the glamorous Fleming “make a fantastic, and entirely natural partnership. For a start, they both have a bit of showbiz about them; a more immaculately dressed couple of musicians would be hard to imagine.” What matters, of course, is that there was also plenty of creative substance beneath the elegant theatrical surface.

For their first joint project, the acclaimed 2001 recording Night Songs, they chose a trilingual selection of songs in French (Fauré and Debussy), German (Fleming’s beloved Richard Strauss and lesser-known Viennese composer Joseph Marx), and Russian (Sergei Rachmaninoff). Gramophone Magazine called the result “a powerhouse partnership in a nocturnal embrace.” Fleming and JYT went on to perform an extensive recital tour featuring an eclectic mix of songs throughout European capitals.

Like Fleming, Thibaudet, born in Lyon and educated at the Paris Conservatory, is no stranger to audiences in Los Angeles, where he now makes his home and serves as the first-ever Artist-in-Residence at the Colburn School. Last season, he wowed a Walt Disney Concert Hall audience with a demanding and rare program of Debussy’s two books of préludes, and, this past summer, he provided suave onstage accompaniment for the Paris Opera Ballet’s performances at the Hollywood Bowl, including a dance set to the music of Eric Satie (Trois Gnossienes), one of his favorite composers. So popular and frequent have been Thibaudet’s appearances at the Bowl that he was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 2010.

Not surprisingly, their joint repertoire has always favored music by French composers. In fact, Fleming’s long personal and creative relationship with Thibaudet has given her increased insight into the world of French music. Better known for her roles in operas by Mozart (the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro), Richard Strauss (the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier) Antonín Dvořák (the title role in Rusalka), Verdi (Violetta in La Traviata), and Tchaikovsky (Tatiana in Eugene Onegin), Fleming also has a few calling-card roles in French opera. Among her most successful forays into that repertoire have been the title roles in Massenet’s Thais and Manon, and in Charpentier’s Louise, the romantic tale of an impoverished Parisian seamstress.

With Thibaudet she has been exploring songs of the late-nineteenth French masters Debussy, Fauré and Henri Duparc. Their music, says Thibaudet, was “exploding alongside the discoveries of Freud and his work on the subconscious,” and expresses “those deep desires and fascinations of the soul and the psyche which are still modern today.”

The collaboration between Thibaudet and Fleming is unusual in that both are famous and recognized artists in their own right. A co-creator rather than an accompanist, Thibaudet usually performs some solo piano works in their recitals. Both are so versatile and well-versed in the piano and song literature that each of their joint programs offer new discoveries and surprises, and a fresh spirit of improvisation. Fleming has also recently been adding to her repertoire works by American composer Kevin Puts, in whose new opera The Hours she will appear at the Metropolitan Opera in the coming months. Puts contributed a new song for Fleming on her recent album, Voice of Nature: The Anthropocene, a collection exploring nature as both the inspiration and the victim of human activity. This piece joins Schubert, Liszt, Fauré, and Duparc on the Walt Disney Concert Hall program, an evening sure to provoke and entertain in equal measure.

—Harlow Robinson