by Mike Telin
“Chopin and singing are perfect companions,” French pianist François Dumont said by telephone from his home in Lyon, “because Chopin’s music is like a singing piano. In fact, Chopin would tell his students that you have to sing if you want to play the piano. During concerts he would often include a singer performing Italian opera.” On Thursday, October 1 at 8:00 pm in Harkness Chapel, François Dumont and Irish soprano Helen Kearns will present a concert titled From Dublin to Lyon. The program will include four Chopin Ballades and arias from The Merry Widow, Die Fledermaus, Rigoletto, and other romantic operas and operettas. The concert is part of the Cleveland International Piano Competition’s PianoPalooza series.
Dumont, who is a 2013 CIPC laureate, explained that Kearns will begin the program with some songs from her native country. “It will be quite interesting, because the songs all have a ballad or narrative element to them. The Chopin ballades are all very narrative as well, and we think the combination will make for an interesting program.” Dumont and Kearns will conclude the evening’s performance with some popular operetta arias. “We think of it as a program with many contrasting moods, including the ballade mood, the mood of the Irish ballads, and the bel canto mood.”
In addition to being performing partners, Dumont and Kearns are partners in life as well. I asked Dumont how they met. “To be very honest, we met thanks to music, and that was now over ten years ago. Helen had come to Paris to study. Her teacher was married to my teacher, and I used to accompany some of her classes. We were also both laureates of an Italian foundation for young musicians in Tuscany, and we got to perform an entire summer’s worth of concerts together.”
Although they both have very busy individual careers, they also have many opportunities to perform as a duo. “We do perform together very often, especially in the summer because festivals are interested in the kind of program that that we will be presenting in Cleveland — which includes some major piano repertoire along with songs and arias. We enjoy performing bel canto, which is linked with Chopin’s music because he was friends with Bellini.”
With two musicians under one roof, the scheduling of practice time is not always easy. “That is an issue, so the number one thing is having enough space, which we are happy about right now. An opera singer has a powerful voice, but on the other hand a singer does not sing eight hours a day. So in a way it’s harder for her than it is for me, because I can practice that long.”
Dumont said that life has an extra bonus when the two are able to travel together for musical projects. “We travel a lot. In fact, we have a concert with orchestra coming up where we’ll perform Mozart’s concert aria Ch’io mi scordi di te for piano obbligato, soprano, and orchestra. I’ll also be playing two Mozart concertos, Nos. 17 and 23, which I’ll be conducting from the keyboard. Helen sings a lot in Spain, so when I have some free time I go to visit her. Honestly, we never have a week that’s the same,” he said with a laugh.
Dumont looks forward to returning to Cleveland and credits his success at CIPC for helping to advance his career. “It was so helpful because your name circulates, and more people know who you are. For example, I just played the two Ravel concertos with Leonard Slatkin in Lyon. The concerts were recorded and are going to be released on CD sometime in 2016. And on this trip in addition to Cleveland, I’ll also be playing Brahms’s second concerto with the Glens Falls (NY) Symphony Orchestra.”
He added that this trip to the US is not all about work. “We’re very happy to be returning to the States, and we will be taking a couple of days off to visit New York City. We’ve been in the airport but have never actually seen the city.”
Published on ClevelandClassical.com September 29, 2015.
Click here for a printable copy of this article