Renowned Pianist Returns from Sweden to a Full Itinerary

September 8, 2023
Dr. Paul-André Bempéchat is a world-class musicologist and pianist who has performed at major concert halls in North America and has toured in virtually every country in Europe. The French Ministry of Culture honored him as a Chevalier de Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Courtesy photo

Bedford resident Dr. Paul-André Bempéchat is a world-class musicologist and pianist who has performed at major concert halls in North America and has toured in virtually every country in Europe. The French Ministry of Culture honored him as a Chevalier de Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. 

Does that mean he never has to practice? “It never stops,” he said during a recent interview, noting that he spent “the whole summer preparing” for an Aug. 10 concert in Vienna.

Bempéchat, 72, visiting lecturer at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston, recently returned from several months as artist-in-residence at Uppsala University in Sweden. 

It’s hard to hit the ground running when you’re seated at a piano, but the metaphor still works for Bempéchat, as he is planning two concert tours, one in Canada and the other in the U.S., and is scheduled to record Beethoven’s 32 sonatas beginning in December.

Also, he is opening a teaching studio in his home and will instruct up to 10 intermediate-to-advanced students individually, most likely college students and adults. Younger candidates will be considered if they are “gifted and committed,” he said. He can be reached at [email protected]

The pianist and his wife Emmanuelle Goulon, a music teacher at the International School of Boston, moved to Bedford from Watertown last year. They met in 2009 at a lecture at the Sorbonne, when she was a professor at the University of Orleans.

Bempéchat was born in Egypt but fled to Montreal with his family after their property was nationalized by the government. 

He recounted his introduction to classical piano from Wayne Riddell, his elementary school music teacher. One afternoon after class, when he was about six years old, he overheard Riddle playing the “Piano Concerto in A Minor by Edvard Grieg. 

“I sat under a desk so he couldn’t see me,” Bempéchat related. And when he was discovered, he told the teacher, “‘It sounds so wonderful. I wish I could do what you are doing.’ He found me my first piano teacher and the rest is history.” Riddle became a longtime music professor at McGill University and chorus master of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.

At age 16, Bempéchat came to the U.S. as a student, eventually earning a bachelor of music degree at the Manhattan School of Music and a master’s degree in music from the Julliard School in New York. He received his first doctorate in France and in 2000, he was awarded the Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Boston University. 

Since 1980, he has been a soloist and chamber musician on both sides of the Atlantic, with performances at Boston’s Jordan Hall and Sanders Theater at Harvard, as well as Berlin’s Konzerthaus and the Konserthus in Stockholm.

He describes himself as a “self-styled, eclectic” musician, and calls his playing style “as conservative as they come,” striving for authenticity, “no excesses, no theatricals, strictly adhering to performance standards, utmost respect for the sacred art.” 

Bempéchat said his personal instrument is a nine-foot concert grand piano, a “huge Bechstein,” that he said took a year to restore. He said it was the last one built before the outbreak of World War II; the Allies eventually bombed the factory in Berlin. “I was very disappointed to learn that the Bechstein family were Nazi sympathizers,” he said, adding that the firm is “making beautiful instruments again” in Vienna.

The pianist stressed the importance of playing an instrument as a multigenerational experience. In schools, he said, children can learn to play together, but “when kids see their parents and grandparents” involved with music, that’s especially important. 

He is encouraged by the throngs of children who attend annual performances of “The Nutcracker.” But he is also sensitive to the fact that “there are people who don’t have the time, or the resources, and they have to be more equally distributed.” 

As an adjunct professor at Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston, Bempéchat teaches a freshman seminar, titled “Why Beethoven?” The course is also scheduled through Harvard Extension School for five months beginning in January, for credit or to audit.  (To register, prospective students may contact the instructor, [email protected], or Dean Lisa Klein-Pearo, [email protected]).

The class is more than music appreciation, he said; students will explore “a lot of historical, philosophical, and sociological depth” that made Beethoven “the most indispensable composer we have.”Bempéchat is also a musicologist with many publications in scholarly journals. In 2009 he completed Jean Cras, Polymath of Music and Letters, the first biography of Cras, who lived from 1879 to 1932. The author describes Cras as an “eclectic Breton impressionist composer.” The second edition was published last year (

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