Pianist at Work issue 77 (April/May 2014)
Interview with CLARA RODRIGUEZ
Pianist readers love it when we present Spanish repertoire inside the Scores. And as you’ll see, we feature Albeniz’s ‘Granada’ inside this issue. We speak to Venezuelan born pianist Clara Rodriguez, an expert in the field of Spanish and Latin American piano repertoire
Tell us a bit about your past and how you fell into the groove of playing and performing Spanish/Latin American repertoire?
I started studying music at the age of 6, in Venezuela as in most Latin countries, we have a preliminary year studying solfeggio (the “sol-fa” method of reading music) which next to musical dictation and theory gives us a base upon which we can start learning an instrument. At 7 I was introduced to my first piano teacher, Guiomar Narvaez who is a passionate advocate of both the traditional piano repertoire and of the Venezuelan and Latin American output. To be honest, as a child I loved playing lots of Bach, Scarlatti, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and Debussy and only connected to the more popular Latin styles later on although here I have to point out that I found great depth in the children pieces by Venezuelan authors I was given to learn from the very beginning, works by Flor Roffe, Antonio Estevez, Inocente Carreño, Teresa Carreño, Alberto Grau, Modesta Bor, Moisès Molerio, Antonio Lauro were all learnt with great care and love. I actually met some of those wonderful composers in my childhood and I remember them with much affection.
During my adolescence I listened to many songs and also was lucky to see how performers and public were so much in love with performing, listening or dancing the popular Latin American repertoire. All that fascinated me and made me want to convey all that energy in my piano playing.
You grew up in Caracas, but moved to London to study at the RCM. Who did you study with? And how did they influence your playing?
I was a teenager going to secondary (high) school in sunny Caracas and in the afternoons I used to go to music conservatoire, when suddenly I saw an advert on the newspaper: auditions would be held the following week (in Venezuela things happen suddenly or never! Hehehe!), I prepared as much as I could and presented in front of Michael Gough Matthews and Barbara Boissard, the then Directors of The Royal College of Music, a programme of pieces that included Bach Prelude and Fugue from the Book II of “The 48”, Chopin Study Op. 10 No 1 and some other works. I was given a scholarship to come to London and it was decided that I would have Phyllis Sellick as piano teacher. The first time I saw Phyllis was on TV because she was part of the jury of the Leeds Piano Competition. She was an immense artist, generous and demanding, she had the highest standard of piano playing that I have ever come across, her musicianship was always directed towards the beauty of sound, contrasts in mood and the deep understanding and interpretation of the score. Absolute respect towards the composer`s ideas was a rule. In a word: Phyllis taught me The ART of piano playing ; she is always on my mind when I am learning pieces. I actually apply her approach to nearly everything I play.
We know that you of course play the ‘classics’ too, such as Beethoven, Bach and so on. Are they both equally important in your piano life?
They are part of my daily life. I could not live without them!!!
Do you think you have to be of Spanish/Latin American origin to play these composers well?
Not any more! It is a learning curve of course and one must listen to as much music as one possibly can and then make the pieces your own. One has to be aware of where the accents fall in the phrase, (that`s the secret!) It is very different to the European feel where nearly always the accents will be on the first beat. One has to understand too that every dance has its own characteristics. Rhythms such as 6/8 and ¾ are usually found alternatively in those dances or sometimes to the right hand 5/8 rhythm of a Venezuelan Merengue you will have to fit in a ¾ rhythm with the left! You have to start to feel these rhythms in your body.
Do you think there’s a lot of this type of repertoire out there that is underrated or unheard of? Tell me about some gems? And how can readers of Pianist find these works?
There`s a wealth of pieces out there to be explored, the main problem is that they are not all published or accessible. I`m in the process of making piano albums with lovely repertoire to alleviate this situation .I have also made CDs (Nimbus Records) of music that had never been recorded before and that the public loves, the music by Teresa Carreño, Moisès Moleiro or Federico Ruiz are gems to me.
I`ll keep you posted about the editions!
Any suggested listening or watching?
In Spanish music Alicia De La Rocha is still the reference, listen to her Iberia Suite recordings.
Another excellent example is guitarist John Williams who is Australian and has studied Venezuelan music extensively.
Without being too chauvinist I would invite Pianist Magazine readers to visit my Youtube Channel, I have added some live concert performances (not yet found on CD) of music by different Latin American composers that I hope you will enjoy.
What techniques does a pianist need in order to play such composers as Albeniz, Granados, Ginastera etc?
Imagination! Visualize the vast Latin American landscapes, read Spanish poetry, go to see Goya paintings and flamenco dancing in order to understand where all this stems from.
You will need to have steely fingers for the fiery dances and silky paddy ones for the cantabiles. I think that what I am trying to say is that you need to produce different “colours” in your piano sound
With regards to your playing, do you have technical challenges/difficulties?
I would say that EVERY piece one plays is a challenge. I take ages learning pieces I`m afraid. When I`m starting one it might happen that I think ”I`ll learn this really quickly” but then when I`m halfway learning it I begin to think that I`m really far from really knowing it…it is complicated! Some technically challenging pieces are sometimes easier to practice and therefore they “get into your fingers” better than slow more abstract one where there`s not much physical memory.
On our covermount CD, we have placed the track La Dulzura de tu Rostro, by Ramon Delgado Palacios, from your Venezuela album. Tell us a bit about that piece.
Thank you for choosing such a beautiful piece. I find that the waltz La dulzura de tu rostro by Ramòn Delgado Palacios (1863-1902) defines musically the 19th century in Venezuela for its romanticism and lyrical expressiveness combined with a typical Venezuelan lilt given by the rhythmical figure present on the accompaniment.Ramón Delgado Palacios was a notable pianist and a renowned teacher. He had studied at the Paris Conservatoire with a pupil of Chopin. Besides playing the piano, he also played the organ with such mastery that the Caraqueñas , attended the 10 a.m. mass at San Francisco Church, in great number just to hear his playing. Delgado Palacios wrote 45 piano pieces and 17 for orchestra, chamber music and vocal works.
I recorded this piece on my “Venezuela” (CD NI6122); in this album you can find a collection of pieces by 18 different composers spanning three centuries of composition, the pieces are all based on the three main Venezuelan popular genres: the waltz, the joropo and the merengue.
Can you name 5 piano pieces that are a ‘must’ for the amateur pianist to learn – of an intermediate grade 4-6 standard?
Federico Ruiz : La peruanita (or any of the Pieces for Children under 100 years of age – Spartan Press)
Ernesto Lecuona: Alhambra (Suite Andalucia)
Heitor Villa-Lobos: Any of the Prole do bebe pieces
Alberto Ginastera: Danza de la moza donosa
Enrique Granados: Oriental No 3 (Danzas españolas)
What are you up to this year?
This year I have been invited to play concerti con orchestras from El Sistema that is celebrating its 39th anniversary, this is a lovely project because as you know they have a fantastic high level but they are also eager to learn from you and are very flexible and open to new ideas. I will also play solo recitals with my usual mixture of European and Latin American music in the programmes.
Tell us about your summer festival in Caracas? How did that come about?
I was involved in the purchase of a beautiful Steinway Concert Grand that went from the Royal Festival Hall to Caracas`s Teresa Carreño Theatre. On this piano many concerts were played and features on many recordings made by the greatest international pianists. Given these characteristics I created a festival in Caracas that I have called “A legendary piano” last year. For this year`s edition I am very excited to announce that four different orchestras will participate, twelve piano concerti will be performed by different pianists, recitals and master classes will also be part of this festival.
How much of your ‘pianist’ life is about teaching? Do you enjoy it? Do you learn from it?
I enjoy teaching very much, I teach lovely people of all ages that usually become my friends in the long run. I also love teaching at the Junior Department of the Royal College of Music my very talented students.
We hear that you will be recording a Villa Lobos CD. We know little about his solo piano music. Tell us if there’s some accessible stuff to learn?
The pieces I`ll be recording soon are very difficult but as I mentioned above there are short interesting and lively pieces in the suite Prole do Bébé also in the Cirandinhas.
How many hours a day do you practice?
It all depends on the programmes I am preparing and on the demands external activities will allow but on easy days 3 hours will seem ok and sometimes 8 hours on a day aren`t enough.
What piano do you own?
A Steinway model O from 1911. I love it!
Any particular goals/dreams?
Play many concerts!
Festival un Piano de Leyenda de Caracas address mail
Photography by Antolín Sánchez