Helene Wickett on piano and viola | January 18, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |



Arts & Entertainment - January 18, 2012

Helene Wickett on piano and viola

by Renee Batti

Pianist Helene Wickett will be under the spotlight when Symphony Parnassus presents a concert of 20th century French music on Sunday, Jan. 22, at the Menlo-Atherton Performing Arts Center.

Ms. Wickett, who was raised in Atherton and now lives in San Mateo, will be the featured soloist in Faure's Ballade for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 19; and Ravel's Concerto for the Left Hand.

Her work, however, won't be over when she walks away from the piano: She will join the rest of the orchestra, in the principal violist chair, in a performance of Debussy's Images for Orchestra, No. 2, Iberia.

The concert begins at 3 p.m. under the direction of Symphony Parnassus Music Director Stephen Paulson, principal bassoonist with the San Francisco Symphony.

Ms. Wickett has performed as a soloist with major orchestras, in solo recital, and in chamber ensembles all over the country and in Europe.

She began studying piano and violin at age 4, although she developed a preference for the piano early on, she says.

Locally, she studied piano with Avis Aasen Hull and Elena Hitchcock. She went abroad in her teens for intensive musical training. In Paris, she studied theory and composition with the venerated Nadia Boulanger. Later, she studied piano in Paris with Robert Casadesus, and in Vienna with Alfred Brendel.

Regarding her immersion in music at an early age, Ms. Wickett points to her mother, longtime Atherton resident Hiltgund Helene Wickett. "I was very lucky — my mother has always been a die-hard music lover," Ms. Wickett says. "She grew up in Vienna and had that strong love, and that led to her getting me training very early on." (Ms. Wickett's father, Walton Wickett, died in 1992.)

Although she put her violin and viola aside for many years, Ms. Wickett says her enthusiasm for the violin began to rekindle about 10 years ago. At that time, she was focused on Beethoven's piano sonata cycle, which sparked a keen interest in his string quartets. Gradually practicing the violin more regularly, she ultimately performed a Beethoven string quartet cycle, she says.

Now, she is at home both at the keyboard and in the string section of an orchestra, or filling a chair in a string ensemble. In addition to performing as principal violist with the Symphony Parnassus, she plays violin with the Fremont Philharmonic.

In her spare time, she teaches piano and violin, and satisfies her love of opera by working behind the scenes at Fremont Opera, at the supertitles controls — a task made easier by her fluency in six languages and extensive knowledge of opera.


Symphony Parnassus performs, with piano soloist Helene Wickett, at 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 22, at the Menlo-Atherton Performing Arts Center. Tickets: $15-$22. Available at brownpapertickets.com. Information: symphonyparnassus.org