Born in Lyon, French pianist François Dumont, 27, was only 14 years old when he entered the Paris Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique. There he was mentored by a dazzling array of pianists, among them Murray Perahia, Menahem Pressler, Leon Fleisher, William G. Naboré, Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Fou Ts’ong. He currently lives in Brussels, but has studied for the past few years both in Italy and Switzerland—at the International Piano Academy Lake Como, and as a Theo Lieven scholar at the Conservatory of Lugano.
Like many of the Cliburn competitors, he’s a pianist on the go, never stopping in one place for long. In Lugano, for instance, Dumont says he doesn’t have “a lot of free time when I’m there”—just enough to enjoy “looking at the lake and having a nice risotto with some friends” once in a while.
Dumont most recently won second prize in the Monte Carlo Piano Masters competition (2011), placed fifth at the 2010 International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, and took fourth prize at the Hamamatsu International Piano Competition in 2009. In 2012, the French music critics association awarded him their “Prix de la Révélation”—and his 2009 recording of the complete Mozart sonatas for Anima label won Pianiste magazine’s Maestro Award.
He finds it hard to name just one favorite composer, but if pressed, says it has to be Beethoven. His answer is thoughtful and detailed.
“Beethoven’s piano literature is just immense—in quantity of course, but also in variety and density,” says Dumont. “It contains a tremendous richness of invention, an incredible amount of contrasts, going from post-Mozartian or Haydn-influenced Classical style, to a huge symphonic treatment of the piano—and then to quasi-ethereal, futuristic sounds in some of the last works, like the second movement of Op. 111 [Beethoven Sonata no. 32, his last; see video below].”
Dumont’s most recent CD release was a collection of Chopin pieces. Is there any way to compare the two composers?
“One is like a lion, and the other like a great singer,” Dumont contends. “However, Chopin can also be like a lion, and Beethoven surely knows how to sing too. In fact, they are two different natures, different ways of thinking. Beethoven is more of an architect, very at ease in great forms. His message is so strong and direct, and his way of expressing himself is extremely dense. I feel he is the essence of Germanic music. Chopin seems more ambiguous, more secretive. His structures are clear, too, but there is more a feeling of improvisation, less premeditation. His esthetic is extremely refined, more aerated and influenced by Italian Bel Canto [style].”
In another part of his musical life, Dumont is a passionate chamber musician, and says he is “extremely looking forward to meeting the Brentano String Quartet and playing with such wonderful musicians.” He is a member of the much-praised Trio Élégiaque, and in the U.S. performed the complete Beethoven violin and piano sonatas with Stéphane Tran-Ngoc.
And he’s a big fan of actor John Malkovich, who (was it those Dangerous Liaisons?) has lived in France off and on for some years.
“He speaks French,” says Dumont. “But that is not the reason why I am a fan. I just think he is a really great actor, authentic and charismatic. And he also acts on the stage, which shows the huge range of his talent.”
Dumont has been to North Texas once before. In the summer of 2007, he was a soloist with the Fort Worth Symphony, playing Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-Flat Major, Op. 73. And he seems to remember the drill: “I must say, I am especially looking forward to the cowboys and the Tex-Mex food!”
◊ Here is a video of François Dumont playing Beethoven in the semifinals of the Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition in 2007:
◊ Dumont spoke of Beethoven’s “futuristic sounds” in some of his late works. For fun, try this 1980s video of pianist Rudolph Serkin playing the second movement of the sonata mentioned, Op. 111. Go about four minutes into the performance if you don’t want to listen to it all—and you may hear the moment when Ludwig met Scott Joplin.
François Dumont's Van Cliburn International Piano Competition Repertoire:
Preliminary Recital, Phase I
MOZART Sonata in A Minor, K. 310
RAVEL Gaspard de la nuit
CHOPIN Scherzo No. 3 in C-sharp Minor, op. 39
Preliminary Recital, Phase II
CHOPIN Sonata No. 3 in B Minor, op. 58
LISZT From Années de Pèlerinage, Book I
LISZT Les jeux d'eaux à la Villa d'Este
LISZT Les cloches de Genève
LISZT Vallée d'Obermann
BEETHOVEN Sonata No. 32 in C Minor, op. 111
FRANCK Piano Quintet in F Minor
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, op. 15
RACHMANINOV Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, op. 43
◊ To see a slideshow of all of the competitors, with bios and links to our profiles of them, click here.