“Very often I have invitations to go to dinner parties with heads of states or royalty or ambassadors or whoever and I’ll always say I have a companion with me and I’d like him to be invited,” says the French classical pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, 41. “And though I don’t say it, what that basically means is if he’s not invited I’ll not come.”
In demand around the globe, Thibaudet tours nine months out of the year. His lover Paul, who works as an international marketing consultant, often travels with him. They maintain homes in Los Angeles and Paris.
“Music has been a very important part of our relationship. When I play and he’s in the audience, there’s certain things that I know he feels. It’s not the same for me when he’s not there.”
Their passion for music isn’t restricted to the classical. “We like jazz, we both love opera madly and go all the time everywhere. We have a lot of pop music as well, Brazilian music, tangos. Paul knows the latest albums. So with him I’m always right on top of things.”
Thibaudet himself has made nearly 40 recordings, ranging from classical concertos and recitals to the jazz of Duke Ellington and Bill Evans. This month, Decca releases his latest, “The Complete Solo Piano Works of Erik Satie,” a five-CD box set that is destined to become a landmark. (“The Magic of Satie,” a single disc of highlights from the collection, was released last year.)
“People think of Satie as a dilettante composer to play in the salon, as nice background music. I always thought that was not fair. So I thought let me look into it and it was unbelievable how much material we found – a lot of manuscripts that were never published and never played or recorded, some fantastic pieces.”
An exquisite beauty and gentle sensuality characterize the pianist’s traversal of the languid waltzes and can-cans of the mysterious Satie. A fellow-Frenchman to Thibeaudet, the composer’s sexuality remained a well-guarded secret right up to his death in 1925.
“Satie never really made it very big in his own time,” Thibaudet explains, “but whenever he went out, he would be dressed absolutely splendidly and perfect. That’s something I can relate to. Even if I don’t have anything special to do, I like dressing up just for my own pleasure.”
Lucky for Thibaudet, his work brings plenty of opportunity to dress in grand style. His latest fashions are often originals from English designer Vivienne Westwood.
“She’s fantastic and we have so much fun together,” he says. “Last year for a special concert in London that was televised in prime time, she came up with a jacket she called ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ – the most beautiful blue taffeta silk, absolutely decadent.”
“Fashion is a real form of art, as much as music or painting and great designers really are great artists. It’s my dream to be part of one of Vivienne’s shows. I’ve asked her many times.”
(A version of this story appeared in The Advocate, May 2003)