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Classical Notes

Helene Grimaud howls for wolf conservation

Posted at 12:00 PM on November 14, 2013 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: Musician stories

This week on Performance Today, you're hearing the beautiful music of French pianist Hélène Grimaud. In addition to being a top-notch musician, Grimaud has made a reputation as an outspoken advocate for a conservation-related cause of particular interest to Minnesotans.

Jason Eades of Superior, Wisc. (right) and Jamie Petite of Cloquet, Minn. protest Minnesota's wolf hunt in downtown Duluth on Oct. 12, 2013. (MPR Photo/Dan Kraker)

Wolf Hunt.jpg

In 1999, Grimaud co-founded a conservation center for wolves in Westchester County, New York. A 2011 New Yorker profile of Grimaud awkwardly draws a parallel between the artist's fondness for wolves and her musical career ("Wolves form packs with well-defined jobs, and their members are coöperative and hierarchical, like the players in an orchestra [...] Grimaud said that she saw herself as a beta in the music world") but also explains the genesis of her interest in wolves, tracing it to a friendship she formed with a man who kept a wolf--or perhaps a wolf-dog hybrid--as a pet.

In 2012, gray wolves in Minnesota were removed from the endangered species list, and sport hunting resumed soon thereafter; in the 2012 wolf season, hunters and trappers in Minnesota killed 413 wolves. Despite vigorous opposition from groups opposed to the wolf hunt, a 2013 season has already begun.

Grimaud's Wolf Conservation Center is among the organizations opposing wolf hunts. A recent newsletter stakes the center's position:

Gray wolves were persecuted so heavily in the past that by the mid-1900's, most lands in the lower 48 were emptied of their top predator. With the support of the American public and the ESA, however, the wolf was able to return to portions of its native range. In areas where wolves were restored, like the northern Rocky Mountains and western Great Lakes states, scientists have noted more diverse plant and wildlife thriving where they had been suppressed for decades. The ESA gave wolves and balanced ecosystems a hard-won second chance. Should we be willing to throw it away?

Hélène Grimaud is just one example of a classical musician taking a stand on issues beyond the concert stage. What do you think? Do you agree with this pianist and conservationist about wolf hunting, or do you disagree? Do musicians' views on extra-musical issues affect the way you listen to their music?