At the piano with Phylis Sellick (1911-2007) by Clara Rodriguez

In Caracas, when I was 16 years of age, together with my mother, we saw a newspaper advert for a competition that would take place a week later. The prize was a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Music in London. With my teacher’s support I entered it and went along to the Escuela de Música Superior José Angle Lamas, the oldest of all the music conservatories of Venezuela with a long tradition producing wonderful composers.

The then directors of the Senior and Junior Departments of The Royal College of Music had been flown in specially to judge the competition. I remember playing Bach Prelude and Fugue in A minor from Book 2 of the 48, Chopin Etude Op. 10 No 1 and Reflets dans l’eau by Debussy. After some theory and aural exams, it was decided that six scholarships would be given to junior musicians: two pianists, one guitarist, one violinist, one recorder and one horn player . This must have been in May and by the 12th of September we were landing in Heathrow!

I was told on arrival, that Barbara Boissard and Michael Gough Matthews had thought that I should study under Phyllis Sellick and that that same evening I would be able to see her on TV as she was judging the final of the Leeds Piano Competition.

Phyllis Sellick was stunning! Everybody seemed to know her, even people I talked to in the streets, asking for directions as I got lost a few times in South Kensington-Knightsbridge-High St. Kensington! In a way, to me this was not surprising as I thought: “It’s normal, I am in Europe, here everything has to do with classical music, and piano” I remember people telling me that she was very good on Mozart and that her husband had been a very well-known pianist too but that she was the most musical of the two. (Sorry Cyril!)

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From the very first moment I met her at the RCM I bathed in a warmth and kindness that never changed in the 28 years I knew her.

The first thing that amazed me was her hands that were so soft, padded, very wide and with a wonderfully lifted little finger knuckle. The perfect hand for the piano.

She patiently, with great care, love, tact and a wonderful insight guided me and taught me the Art of playing the piano. I still go by her teachings, every day! I also do my best to pass on all that knowledge to my pupils.

I remember trying to tell myself: “this is it! This will be my profession” as up to then I had thought I would finish my piano degree in Venezuela and I would also go to university to study sociology.

I used to call her Miss Sellick until she told me: “Phyllis, please!”, she used to call me “Little Clara

Phyllis, used to say to me: “This is a world class conservatory, so you must play like a world class pianist” She would also talk about being a “professional pianist” an important concept that Cyril Smith and herself had with great determination fulfilled during their time.

During the first term with her one day she asked me “How long do you practice a day?” to which I must have answered trying to be impressive “two hours”, she said “you must do five” so, with a clock in front of me I started doing this, of course!

I used to have weekly lessons with her on Wednesdays and Junior Department lessons on Saturdays.

Very early on she entered me for a concerto competition where I played Mozart’s KV 595, and before that took place, she kindly organized a concert in her beautiful house of Fife Road, East Sheen, where I met many of my piano classmates that came from all over the world: Marta from Peru, Eva from Germany, Kim from New Zealand, Noriko from Japan, David from the USA, Karen and James from the UK. Norberto and Héctor, from Argentina, would kindly accompany me on the orchestral reductions and they would come to the teaching room at the end of my lessons to translate any important message Phyllis wanted to make sure I understood as my English was non-existent.

Then I made many more friends that studied under her and admired her, Andrew, the Cann sisters, Geofrey, Ann, Liz, Amanda, Adrian, Dominic, Ian…it is impossible to mention them all right now!

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Amanda Hurton, Phyllis Sellick, Marta Encinas, Clara Rodriguez, Eva Alexander

She had both a practical and a methodical way of living life and being in a “bubble” of love for music; she once told me that she only needed “piano music and coffee to live.”

She was such a kind teacher, always thinking of how she could help her students solve problems. She would give me a phonecall when I least expected it, to tell me something about a particular bar that I should play “pp” or how I should join a yoga class to help relax my shoulders.

Once she arranged for five pupils to come to my lesson to sing Bach Fugue in C sharp minor from Book 1 so I could conduct them and listen to all the voices. It was an exhilarating experience!

My studies with her were full of wonderful pianistic revelations, for instance, the idea that the piano is a percussion instrument and that we pianists, must make it “sing” as well as making long lines, connecting every note so that there is coherence in the phrasing, is a challenge.

This work of filigree was something Phyllis instilled in me even deeper. I have to say that I had had excellent tuition in Venezuela from my first teacher Guiomar Narváez and masterclasses from Regina Smendzianka from Poland, plus my own interest in playing in a way that did not produced unwanted accents, but it was under Phyllis’s light that I went on developing this side of my playing.

Phyllis at 10

Phyllis at the age of ten

Phyllis Sellick was born in Ilford, Essex, started to play the piano by ear at the age of three and had her first music lesson on her fifth birthday, she would say that going up the escalator on the tube was the best thing of going to the lessons plus when the teacher played with her. Four years later she won the Daily Mirrors “Pip, Squeak and Wilfred” contest for young musicians and was awarded two years’ private tuition with Cuthbert Whitemore, subsequently winning an open scholarship to continue her studies with him at the Royal Academy of Music. Thanks to her mentors, she later studied with Isidor Philipp in Paris, a pupil of George Mathias, who in turn had studied with Frederic Chopin, a fact that always fascinated us, her pupils, who are fifth generation Chopin’s students!

During her stay in Paris, Phyllis played for Maurice Ravel and studied many of his works with him, making recordings of some of his pieces on 78 RPM. I am very proud to have studied with her some Ravel works including the Concerto in G which she came to hear when I performed it at ST. John’s Smith Square.

For us, her students, it was so important that Phyllis and Cyril had had a formidably close friendship with Sergei Rachmaninoff. I think that Phyllis had a deep affinity with his music and its interpretation. She felt real musical passion and made me try to convey it in performances, all with a “steely” control! Very difficult to manage as sometimes the music moved me so much that I was not capable to produce any sounds from my hands! When I was about 7, I remember telling my mum how a piece from Ana Magdalena Bach’s book had made me cry. So, all these feelings had to be curbed in order to play the piano!

Clara Rodriguez at the piano with Phylis Sellick  Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UeG8eSeRYME

I now realize how hard it must have been for her that at the height of his solo concert career her husband lost the use of the left hand down to having had two strokes. How much support she must have given him, so they could start a new career playing the four-hand repertoire with three hands. Arranging many pieces and having many works composed for them.

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Cyril and Phyllis on the steps of the Albert Memorial. Kensington Gardens

I immensely enjoyed listening to her stories about their efforts during the war such as their concert tours in Portugal and in India. How uncomfortable many situations were, from insects biting their hands during performances to seeing the most shocking social contrasts in those societies.

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Cyril and Phyllis in a broacasting studio in India

She braved the air raids, playing Beethoven fourth piano concerto near where a bomb fell jerking the piano up and down, ending her story thus: “fortunately I was able to continue playing”.

Or when she learnt to drive ambulances or those amazing stories during The Blitz when Cyril and her had to go to Broadcasting House to play Mozart D major Sonata, live,  having to run through the London streets under “a good deal of shrapnel” to take the tube- where people were getting ready to sleep on the platforms – to play the Mozart divinely!

On another occasion she had to go to sleep in the BBC to be woken up at 2.00 am to play the incredibly difficult Ravel Toccata for the World Service, “it felt like death” she said to me.

Phyllis Sellick, Cyril Smith and Brahms

Cyril, Brahms and Phyllis

Another beautiful story was the one of their trip to Ireland, their son accustomed to hear: “this month we have not got enough money because concerts have been scarce” the little boy was very distressed to see the Irish children wearing no shoes and with anger said: “their parents should play more concerts!

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Graham, Phyllis, Cyril and Claire

Sir Henry Wood insisted that they should play together and they performed together at The Proms in 1941, making many international tours and recordings as a duo. Composers such as Ralph Vaughan Williams (Introduction and Fugue ‘For Phyllis and Cyril’) and Lennox Berkeley wrote music specially for them. Malcolm Arnold (Concerto for Piano 3 Hands and Orchestra, Op. 104, sometimes known as Concerto for Phyllis and Cyril).

Phyllis and Cyril were awarded OBEs in 1971.

Once I wrote a card to her in which I said that she had the highest standards of piano playing I have ever known and she replied that she would, on sad days, remember that thought.

I used to go to play for her until she was well into her eighties before my recitals or recordings. Her opinion was very significant for me. She went to all my major London concerts and would very sweetly give me a call the next day, invariably I would be thinking how many things should have been better played, she would give me lots of encouragement and often said: “I am your number one fan” in which case I would say that we belonged to the mutual admiration society.

She broke first her thumb and then her wrist and I remember seeing her trying to train her hand again by doing basic excercises and even playing Beethoven third piano concerto at the Fairfield Halls in Croydon successfully but not many other concerts were possible as her hand had been badly damaged unfortunately.

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Queen Elizabeth being presented a bouquet by Phyllis at the Royal Festival Hall. 1952

 

In 2002 she appeared on the BBC radio programme Desert Island Discs. One of her choices was Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini to which she added “I would like Cyril to play it”. I remember the presenter asking her also, “How do you teach?” and she said: “I listen to the students and then tell them what I think” We both laughed when I pointed out how simple she made everything sound.

She died in Kingston in 2007.

 

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London Concert and CD launch “Americas Without Frontiers”

Wednesday 29 November at 7.30 pm at St. James’s Church, Piccadilly

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Venezuelan pianist Clara Rodriguez returns to St. James’s Piccadilly for an evening full of wonderful music with a varied programme of composers that include Chopin, Ravel and Rachmaninoff as well as a selection of fantastically joyful and intriguing compositions by composers from Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Haiti and Venezuela to launch Clara Rodriguez’s new CD “Americas Without Frontiers” on Nimbus Records.

Tickets from: https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2981552

Dear friends,

I am happy to announce that I shall be playing a recital on Wednesday 29th November at 7.30 pm at the beautiful St. James’s Church in Piccadilly.

This time I shall be also paying homage to my teacher, the English pianist Phyllis Sellick (1911-2007) in the tenth year of her death.

She was and still is a great inspiration for my playing and my teaching. She transmitted to me knowledge from her vast artistic experience as well as the one received from her own teachers that included Isidor Philipp – fact that made her a great-grand pupil of Chopin’s – and from Maurice Ravel in Paris.

In London she and her husband, Cyril Smith, were part of the élite of musicians of the time that included names such as Michael Tippet, Vaughan Williams, Arthur Bliss, who all wrote pieces especially for them. Her admiration for the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff, who was a personal friend of the couple, was unquestionable and she demonstrated a deep understanding of his music.

I have decided to play a programme that will include iconic works by Chopin, Ravel and Rachmaninoff in her honour as well as pieces from my new CD “Americas Without Frontiers”, copies of which you will be able to get on the night.

Dominic Seligman will read anecdotes from the life and work of Phyllis Sellcik; poet and Timothy Adès will read his English translation of the poem TIME OF MAN by Atahualpa Yupanqui and Leonardo Muller texts by Alejo Carpentier and Alfonsina Storni.

It is a privilege to still be able to make music in this world of ours!

Programme

Four Venezuelan waltzes:
Evencio Castellanos: Mañanita Caraqueña

Ramón Delgado Palacios: La dulzura de tu rostro

Maria Luisa Escobar: Noche de luna en Altamira

Teresa Carreño: Mi Teresita

Sergei Rachmaninoff: Three Preludes Op. 23

E flat No 6, G minor No 5, D major No 4

Frèdèric Chopin: Ballade Op. 23 No 1 in G minor

INTERVAL

Ludovic Lamothe: La dangereuse

Germán Darío Pérez: Tranquilamente, un tipo leal

Germán Darío Pérez: Ancestro

Maurice Ravel: Pavane pour une enfante défunte

Maurice Ravel: Three pieces from Le Tombeau de Couperin:
Prelude – Menuet – Toccata

Ariel Ramírez: Alfonsina y el mar

Ernesto Lecuona: Malagueña

Image by Carlos David; Photography by Antolín Sánchez

 

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Teresa Carreño, la gran pianista venezolana por Clara Rodriguez

Este año Clara Rodríguez tocará varios conciertos dedicados a la memoria de la pianista venezolana Teresa Carreño (Caracas, 22 de diciembre de 1853 – Nueva York, 12 de junio de 1917), quien también fue cantante y compositora y  quien fuera descrita a lo largo de su vida como “Liszt en faldas”, “La emperatriz del piano”, “La valquiria del piano”

Teresa Carreño fue una de las más exitosas y admiradas pianistas de los siglos XIX y principios del XX, tocando conciertos alrededor del mundo y componiendo desde los 6 años de edad un total de 70 obras para piano; Muchas de ellas se publicaron en Europa y en los Estados Unidos.

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Teresa Carreño representó a la tercera generación de niños prodigios que habían ejercido la posición de “músicos meritorios”, carreras comenzadas desde por lo menos los 6 años de edad en la Catedral de Caracas como cantantes solistas, organistas y ejecutantes de instrumentos de cuerda y fue la primer músico de su familia en ganar reconocimiento fuera de Venezuela gracias a su primera presentación pública a los 8 años de edad, en el “Irving Hall” de Nueva York, el 25 de noviembre de 1862.

Era la tercera de los cinco hijos de Manuel Antonio Carreño (nacido el 17 de junio de 1813 ), conocido principalmente como abogado y ministro de finanzas y quien escribió el famoso Manual de urbanidad y buenos modales en 1853. Manuel Antonio era también músico y escribió unos 500 ejercicios para su hija los cuales ella tocaba regularmente en todas las tonalidades, logrando grandes beneficios y facilidad técnica desde temprana edad . También le enseñó armonía y composición.
La madre de Teresa Carreño, nacida de dos familias revolucionarias de Venezuela, era Clorinda García de Sena y Toro, pariente de la esposa de Simón Bolívar y del Marqués del Toro. El tío-abuelo de Teresa Carreño fue Simón Rodríguez, el maestro de Simón Bolívar y quien ejerciera gran influencia sobre El Libertador.

6.Teresa Carreño-niña. Boston 1863Teresa Carreño. Boston. USA. 1863

Al ver las habilidades musicales de Teresa Carreño y de tener la sensación de que su futuro debía trascender círculos más grandes, Gertrudis, su emprendedora abuela , vendió sus propiedades en Venezuela y en 1862 la familia se trasladó a Nueva York.
En ese entonces, Teresa Carreño fue escuchada por Louis Moreau Gottschalk, quien quedó muy impresionado por su estilo y se ofreció a darle lecciones, Teresita mostró a lo largo de su vida un gran respeto, cariño y admiración por el pianista.

5.Teresa Carreño. La Habana 1864Teresa Carreño. La Habana 1864

Al año siguiente, en 1863, en el mes de enero, se presentó en Boston y luego viajó a Cuba con su familia. Más tarde en el mismo año recibió una invitación de la Casa Blanca para tocar para el presidente Abraham Lincoln y su familia – ella encontró que el piano estaba “muy desafinado” pero que había sido una tarde “divertida”. También se sintió realmente orgullosa de ver su primera composición titulada “Gottschalk Waltz”, publicada. Dicha publicación se agotó tres veces en un año.

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Teresa Carreño y su familia se marcharon a Europa en marzo de 1866, el viaje fue una verdadera odisea, terriblemente difícil por mares muy agitados, en un barco defectuoso y en una ocasión tuvieron que inclusive cambiar de buque. Cuando finalmente llegaron a Inglaterra, permanecieron allí por un breve tiempo para luego seguir a París, en donde se instalaron. En la capital francesa fue muy bien acogida por los artistas más famosos, por la aristocracia de todos los salones y por las salas de conciertos más prestigiosas. Madame Erard y Rossini se aseguraron de que tuviera las mejores oportunidades para conocer a los músicos más admirados de la época, como Franz Liszt, quien llegó al salón de Madame Erard acompañado por el joven Camille Saint-Saëns y después de oír a la niña y poner sus manos sobre su cabeza le dijo: “Tienes un regalo enviado por Dios: Genio. Trabaja duro, desarrolla tu talento, sé fiel a ti misma y con el tiempo serás uno de nosotros.” Ofreció darle clases en Roma, pero su padre no pudo organizar ese viaje. Durante su tiempo en París, también tocó para Berlioz, ganó la admiración de Gounod y tuvo una amistad duradera con Blandine Ollivier, una de las hijas de Liszt.
En 1866, Teresa Carreño perdió a su madre quien murió víctima del cólera. En ese momento escribió seis elegías y tocó conciertos vestida de negro. Los críticos dijeron que cada nota que tocaba era como una lágrima de tristeza por su pérdida. Luego viajó a España con su padre y tocó conciertos en Madrid y Zaragoza. Toda España fue a escucharla excepto la familia Toro que consideraba que su madre, Clorinda, se había casado con un hombre de inferior rango social.

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Una gran parte de su obra fue publicada en París durante las décadas de 1860 y 1870 por Heugel.

Al mismo tiempo, en la ciudad Luz, el gran maestro Georges Mathias, discípulo de Chopin, se ofreció para enseñarle a la adolescente los secretos del arte de tocar el piano.

Teresa Carreño viajó a Inglaterra donde Charles Hallé la presentó a la Princesa de Gales y tocó también en las salas de conciertos Queen Rooms de Hanover Square, donde Anton Rubinstein fue a escucharla; Desde entonces se convirtió en su maestro. Él la llamaba “Mi Sol” y “Bebé”.

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En Londres así mismo tocó largas temporadas en el Covent Garden Theatre dirigido por Arthur Sullivan.
A la edad de veinte años Teresa Carreño se casó con el violinista francés Émile Sauret (1852 -1920). En 1874 tuvieron una hija, Emilita, que con mucha tristeza y pesar fue dada en adopción en Inglaterra; Su esposo la había abandonado y no podía ofrecer seguridad ni sustento al bebé. Su padre, Manuel Antonio, murió en París en agosto del mismo año; el periódico Le Ménestrel publicó una nota en donde decía que había sido uno de los maestros de piano más solicitados de Francia.

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Ella se trasladó a los Estados Unidos y continuó viajando y tocando incansablemente durante los años 70 y 80, pero deseaba un cambio en su vida artística y comenzó una carrera como cantante de ópera, debutando en Nueva York, en 1876, en el papel de Zerlina del Don Giovanni de Mozart. Ya en París el mismo Rossini había presentido que el talento de  Teresa Carreño para el belcanto sería algún día desarrollado. Su cambio hacia la ópera fue breve, intenso y muy exitoso.

Durante este tiempo se casó con su segundo marido, Giovanni Tagliapietra, un barítono nacido en Italia que bebía demasiado, sentía envidia del talento de su esposa haciéndo de la vida conyugal un tormento para Teresa. Tuvieron dos hijos: Teresita y Giovanni. En su edad adulta, Teresita se convirtió en una famosa pianista y Giovanni en cantante. Durante estos años, Teresa Carreño entabló amistad con Edward MacDowell, y promovió su música en los EE.UU. y en Europa y siempre contó con la amistad de la madre del compositor. Edward MacDowell le dedicó su segundo concierto para piano el cual ella insistía en tocar aún y cuando no fuera el favorito de los directores de orquesta.
En 1885, Teresa Carreño regresó por primera vez a su lugar de nacimiento, Venezuela. Allí actuó en conciertos y también compuso un himno en homenaje a Simón Bolívar. Al año siguiente, en su segundo viaje a Caracas, llevó una compañía de ópera, dirigió la orquesta y en ocasiones cantó también. Les Huguenots, Rigoletto, Norma y Carmen eran parte del afiche de la temporada la cual llegó a un final no muy feliz ya que la oposición de aquel momento tomó como blanco para hacer sus protestas el teatro en donde se efectúaba dicha temporada de ópera, ésto unido al rechazo de la alta sociedad caraqueña hacia ella porque decían que era pariente de Antonio Guzmán Blanco, político caído en desgracia en ese entonces le debe haber causado gran tristeza. Teresa Carreño nunca más se refirió al ese infortunado capítulo.

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Teresa Carreño regresó a Europa y empezó a tocar el piano otra vez en 1889, dando un nuevo impulso a su carrera musical. Pasó un verano en París y luego se mudó a Berlín donde se instaló. Hizo su primera actuación con la Filarmónica de Berlín, interpretando el Concierto para piano de Grieg recibiendo muchos elogios del propio compositor. En otra ocasión, en Varsovia, fue el mismo Edward Grieg quien la dirigió, él sentía profunda admiración por la pianista venezolana.
Entre 1892 y 1895 se casó con el pianista Eugen d’Albert, y juntos tuvieron dos hijas, Eugenia y Hertha. Teresa Carreño le dió gran apoyo a su marido, tocando sus composiciones y acompañádolo a sus conciertos; ella no recibió de él ese respaldo moral.

Eran dos grandes pianistas y compositores viviendo intensamente sus vidas y carreras artísticas bajo un mismo techo. El temperamento explosivo de ella no caló con el cinismo y -creo que hay que decirlo- machismo del pianista alemán.

Con un poco de humor la prensa reseñó en un momento:

“Ayer Frau Carreño dió la primera audición del segundo concierto de su tercer marido en el cuarto concierto de la Filarmónica.”

Después de un divorcio acrimonioso durante el cual el pianista quiso inclusive internarla en un manicomio con tal de no pagar la educación de sus hijas,  Teresa Carreño se dedicó a la composición escribiendo un cuarteto de cuerdas y una serenata.

“Uno nunca puede casarse demasiado tarde ni divorciarse demasiado pronto” se le oyó decir en un momento de amargura.
Comenzó a enseñar el piano y fue muy querida por sus estudiantes de Berlín, escribiendo un libro sobre la técnica de pedal.

Continuó actuando como solista con muchas de las principales orquestas europeas así como en recitales; su repertorio era muy impresionante e incluyía las Sonatas y conciertos de Beethoven, obras de Schumann como la Fantasía y los Etudes Symphoniques, las Baladas y Scherzi de Chopin, los grandes conciertos románticos; también sus propias transcripciones de ópera y sus valses.

En 1902, tomó la decisión de casarse con Arturo Tagliapietra, hermano de su segundo marido; Durante este período viajó a Sudáfrica, Australia y Nueva Zelanda.
Una vida llena de arduo trabajo y grandes emociones la agotaron físicamente.  En un viaje a Cuba comenzó a sufrir de diplopía, aún así ella tocó un concierto con sus ojos cerrados pero debió regresar a su casa de Nueva York en donde murió el 12 de junio de 1917. Gracias a grandes esfuerzos de su discípula y biógrafa Marta Milinowsky, sus cenizas fueron luego repatriadas a Venezuela y guardadas en el Panteón Nacional de Caracas.

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Teresa Carreño realizó varias presentaciones en los conciertos de Promenade de Henry Wood (Proms). Este escribió  en sus memorias: “Es difícil expresar adecuadamente lo que todos los músicos sentían por esta gran mujer que parecía una reina entre los pianistas y tocaba como una diosa. En el instante en que caminaba sobre el escenario, su firme dignidad mantenía a su audiencia en vilo que la observaba con gran atención mientras ella arreglaba la larga cola de los elegantes vestidos que usaba habitualmente. Su vigor masculino en el sonido, su touché y su maravillosa precisión al ejecutar pasajes de octavas dejaban a todos pasmados”.

El pianista Claudio Arrau recordó con alegría que él la había escuchado muchísimas veces en conciertos en Europa exclamando: “¡Oh! ¡Era una diosa!

Clara Rodríguez ha grabado un CD que contiene quince de las obras de Teresa Carreño para Nimbus Records (NI 6103) que ha sido internacionalmente elogiado por los críticos y el cual es a menudo reproducido en la radios incluyendo las estaciones de la BBC. El crítico Jeremy Nicholas de Gramophone Magazine escribió:

“Esta música necesita un espíritu de lleno de empatía para mostrarlo a su mejor luz y Clara Rodríguez ofrece interpretaciones de fascinante vivacidad aliadas al requisito más esencial de CHARM”.
Altamente recomendable”

https://www.gramophone.co.uk/review/clara-rodriguez-plays-teresa-carre%C3%B1o

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A Citizen of the World, The Venezuelan Pianist, Teresa Carreño by Clara Rodriguez

518tBu2ogTL._SS135_SL160_Clara Rodriguez has recorded a CD containing fifteen of works by Teresa Carreño for Nimbus Records NI 6103 which has been internationally praised by reviewers and is often played on radio networks including the BBC stations. The critic Jeremy Nicholas from Gramophone Magazine wrote:

“This music needs an empathetic spirit to show it to its best advantage and Clara Rodriguez provides performances of alluring vivacity allied to that most essential of requisites-CHARM.”
Highly recommended” https://www.gramophone.co.uk/review/clara-rodriguez-plays-teresa-carre%C3%B1o
Clara Rodriguez is also working on an edition of Fifteen Piano Works by Teresa Carreño that will shortly be available from Spartan Press.

This year Clara Rodriguez will be playing a number of concerts in memory of the Venezuelan pianist Teresa Carreño (Caracas December 22, 1853 – New York June 12, 1917) who was also a Singer and a Composer and who was variously described throughout her life as “Liszt in petticoats”, “The Empress of the piano”, “The Valkyrie of the piano”

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Teresa Carreño was one of the most accomplished pianists of the nineteenth and twentieth century, giving performances and concerts all over the world. She composed, since the age of 6 a total of 70 works for the piano; many of them were published in Europe and in the USA during her lifetime.
She represented the third generation of child prodigies that had held the position of “meritorious musicians” from at least 6 years of age in the Cathedral of Caracas as singer-soloists, organists and string players and was the first musician of her family to gain recognition outside Venezuela from her  highly acclaimed debut at 8 years of age, at the “Irving Hall”, New York, on November 25, 1862. She was the third of five children of Manuel Antonio Carreño (born June 17, 1813), mainly known as lawyer and minister of finance in Venezuela, who wrote an influential and widespread Manual of urbanity and good manners in 1853, Manuel Antonio was a trained musician too and wrote 500 exercises for his daughter that she played regularly in all keys, achieving great technical ease from an early age. He also taught her harmony and composition.

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Teresa Carreño’s mother was Clorinda García de Sena y Toro a relative of Simon Bolívar’s wife and her great-grand uncle was Simón Rodríguez who exerted great influence on Simón Bolívar and his quest to liberate South America.
Seeing Teresa Carreño’s musical abilities and feeling that her future should transcend in bigger circles, Gertrudis, her enterprising grandmother, sold her properties in Venezuela and in 1862 the family moved to New York.
It was during this time that she was heard by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, who was very impressed by her playing style and volunteered to give her lessons, Teresita showed throughout her life great respect and admiration for the pianist.

5.Teresa Carreño. La Habana 1864Teresa Carreño. La Habana 1864

The following year, in 1863, she performed in Boston, and then travelled to Cuba with her family. Later in the same year an invitation came from the White House to play for President Abraham Lincoln and his family – she found that the piano was “out-of-tune” but that it had been a “fun” afternoon. She also felt really proud to have her first composition titled “Gottschalk Waltz” published which sold many copies in a short time.

6.Teresa Carreño-niña. Boston 1863Teresa Carreño. Boston. USA. 1863

Teresita

Teresa and her family left for Europe in March, 1866 in a terribly difficult voyage over rough seas and on an occasion having to change vessels. When they finally reached England they remained there for a brief time to then travel to Paris where they settled. In the French capital she was made to feel welcome by the greatest artists playing in all the most prestigious salons and concert halls. Madame Erard and Rossini made sure she had the best opportunities to meet the most admired musicians of the time such as Franz Liszt who came to the salon accompanied by the young Camille Saint-Saëns, and after hearing the child and putting his hands on her head, said: “You have a God’s sent gift: Genius. Work hard, develop your talent, be true to yourself and in time you will be one of us” He offered to teach her in Rome but this was not possible to organize by her father. During her time in Paris, she also played for Berlioz, won the admiration of Gounod and had a lasting friendship with Blandine Ollivier, one of Liszt’s daughters.

In 1866, Teresa lost her mother who became a victim of cholera. At this time she wrote six elegies and played concerts wearing black. The critics said that every note she played was like a tear of sadness for her loss. She then travelled to Spain with her father and played concerts in Madrid and Zaragoza.
A large body of her work was published in Paris during the 1860s and 1870s by Heugel who was another admirer of her talent. The great teacher Georges Mathias, pupil of Chopin’s, volunteered to teach the girl giving her very important secrets of the art of piano playing.

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Teresa Carreño went to England where Charles Hallé introduced her to the Princess of Wales playing also in the Queen’s Concert Rooms of Hanover Square where Anton Rubinstein came to hear her; from then on he became her mentor and teacher. He used to call her “My Sunshine” and “Bebé”.
In London she also played long seasons in the Covent Garden Theatre conducted by Arthur Sullivan.

At the age of twenty Teresa Carreño married the French violinist Émile Sauret (1852 –1920). In 1874 they had a daughter, Emilita, who with much sadness and regret was given in adoption in England; her husband had abandoned her and she could not offer any security to the baby. Her father, Manuel Antonio, died in Paris in August of the same year. The newspaper Le Ménestrel said that he had been one of the most sought after piano teachers of France.

She moved to the USA and went on indefatigably touring during the 70s and 80s but she wished for a change and started to pursue a career as an opera singer, debuting in New York, in 1876, as Zerlina, in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Her switch over to opera was brief and successful. During this time she married her second husband, Giovanni Tagliapietra, an Italian-born baritone who drank too much and was jealous of his wife’s talent. They had two children—Teresita and Giovanni; Teresita became a famous pianist later in her life. During these years she became acquainted with Edward MacDowell. She championed his music in the USA and in Europe. MacDowell dedicated his Second Piano Concerto to her. She made a point of playing this concerto even if it was not favoured by many of the conductors or critics of the time!

In 1885 and in 1886, Teresa visited her birthplace, Venezuela. There she performed in concerts and also composed a hymn in tribute to Simón Bolívar.
She also managed an opera company and conducted the orchestra, in occasions singing as well. Les Huguenots, Carmen, Rigoletto and Norma were favourites.

Teresa returned to Europe and started to perform the piano again in 1889, giving a new boost to her music career. She spent a summer in Paris and with money lent by her USA friends she could moved to Berlin where she settled, she had been dreaming of finding a public and a country that understood and loved classical music. Teresa gave her first performance with the Berlin Philharmonic, playing Grieg’s Piano Concerto receiving much praise from the composer himself, “Madam I never knew that my music was so beautiful” He also conducted her in different occasions.
Between 1892 and 1895 she was married to pianist Eugen d’Albert, and together they had two daughters, Eugenia and Hertha.

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In Germany, women were not treated as equals and although Carreño gave ample support to her husband by playing his compositions wherever she went and being present in his most important concerts he did not return her kindness; two great pianists together under one roof did not make for a happy home.

There was room in the press for some humour though:
“Yesterday Frau Carreño played for the first time the second concerto by her third husband during the fourth Philharmonic concert”

Teresa’s explosive temperament next to d’Albert’s sarcasm resulted  in a third divorce for Carreño; He tried every trick possible to avoid his responsabilities towards the maintenance to their daughters, even trying to have her locked-up in a mental institution.

In a bitter moment she would tell a friend: “One can never marry too late or divorce too soon!”

She turned to composition for solace and during her summer holidays, wrote a string quartet and a serenade.

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Teresa Carreño started teaching the piano and was much loved by her Berlin students, her Berlin sons and daughters, writing also a book on pedalling technique.

She also continued to perform with many major European orchestras. Her repertoire was very impressive and included the Beethoven Concertos and Sonatas, Schumann Fantasy and Etudes Symphoniques, Chopin Concertos, Ballades and Scherzi, and also her own opera transcriptions and waltzes.

In 1902, she took the decision to marry Arturo Tagliapietra, her second husband’s brother; and travelled to South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
She ignored her optitian’s warnings that she should stop playing and take a rest. In a trip to Cuba she suffered an eye haemorrhage and died on the 12th of June 1917 in her New York home. Her ashes were later repatriated to Venezuela and are kept at the Panteón Nacional in Caracas.

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She performed several times at the Henry Wood’s promenade concerts. He wrote in his memoires: “It is difficult to express adequately what all musicians felt about this great woman who looked like a queen among pianists – and played like a goddess. The instant she walked onto the platform her steady dignity held her audience who watched with riveted attention while she arranged the long train she habitually wore. Her masculine vigour of tone and touch and her marvellous precision on executing octave passages carried everyone completely away.”

Pianist Claudio Arrau recalled the joy of once hearing her performance by exclaiming, “Oh! She was a goddess!”

Brahms on Carreño: “You are not a lady pianist you are a MAN pianist”

@Clara Rodriguez

The LUKAS – A welcome award

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I have been honoured by having been named Classical Act of the Year by the LUKAS 2015.

This is an award that has a public vote and there are also judges that cast theirs  to choose the winners out of a list of nominees. The Latin-UK Awards (LUKAS) is the only award to recognize the contribution of Britain’s one million Latin American, Spanish and Portuguese residents. It is the most media covered Latin event in the UK’s history, reaching an estimated 10 million people in the UK and South America.

There has been an explosion of beautiful messages, TV, Radio and in the media in general, from the main newspapers to celebrity magazines. It has been amazing to see the reaction of the people and how much happiness and pride this distinction has brought to my country, my British colleagues, friends and fans. That is the real prize for me.

It is fantastic to see that one’s work has meaning for so many people; that not only the uncertainty that this occupation entails but also the joy and thrill one feels by planning the concerts, dreaming of the programmes and performing or even teaching has a place in our  diverse society.

Dancers, exhibition curators, footballers, restaurateurs, artists, politicians, salsa and pop legends as well as Classical musicians -me on this occasion!-  were invited to go up onto a stage “with all the trimmings” to share our very rich multiculturality.

It has been a lovely experience. Thank you to the creators of this excellent and valuable idea.