An Evening of Piano Masterpieces, with Beatrice Rana
Sunday, November 22, 2020
On WCRB In Concert with the Celebrity Series of Boston, Beatrice Rana plays a recital sweeping through the acrobatics of Chopin, the mysticism of Ravel, and the dance of Stravinsky.
CHOPIN Études, Book II
STRAVINSKY Suite from The Firebird (trans. Guido Agosti)
Recorded February 27, 2019 at the Longy School of Music's Pickman Hall
Hear Beatrice Rana in conversation with WCRB's Alan McLellan:
This concert is no longer available on demand.
Alan McLellan (AM) [00:00:00] I'm Alan MacLellan with WCRB In Concert, I'm so pleased to be able to have a visit with Beatrice Rana, who's here for a recital and we're so excited to hear you play.
Beatrice Rana (BR) [00:00:11] Oh, thank you very much. It's my first time to Boston, and I'm very excited about that.
AM [00:00:18] You've had many first times in the last few years and you've had wonderful honors from the Montreal competition and then the Van Cliburn, you won the silver medal and the audience award. And then 2017, it was the Gramophone Young Artist of the Year award. All these awards, how does it feel to be in a position of receiving that many? And now do you expect to continue along that line?
BR [00:00:47] Well, of course I don't complain [laughs]. Montreal and the Van Cliburn competitions were competitions, so, of course, it's nice to get prizes in a competition. And I'm very happy to be done with competitions because that's, of course, the path that a young musician has to do.
BR [00:01:11] The Gramophone was a different thing because the Gramophone was related to the album with the Goldberg Variations. And for that sense, it was a very nice way to recognize a certain kind of work, because I know that maybe from the outside, I might look young, but at the same time, people sometimes forget that musicians start very early. So, it's true that I am 26, but I started to study the piano when I was three, so it's almost 23 years that I've been playing the piano. And, you know, sometimes to have certain kind of recognition is a nice way to know if you're working in the right direction.
AM [00:02:00] But I would imagine that eventually those things taper off. Do you feel like you're in a transition from being recognized as a young person with a great deal of talent to being recognized as an artist in a full grown sense?
BR [00:02:16] When I was younger, I thought it might be a very tough transition because of course, it's very easy to impress people when you are a "young prodigy," as people say. Getting older, of course, could be tough.
BR [00:02:30] But now that I'm getting older, I see from a very different perspective, because there is not a certain point when you become an adult or a proper artist. And the idea of art changes a lot, too. Growing up with music and with art and being able to change ideas also on what you think about music. So it's very hard sometimes, but a very interesting process.
AM [00:03:02] You grew up in a musical family, did you?
BR [00:03:04] Yes, I was born in a family with my parents, both of them are pianists.
AM [00:03:10] I see. So it was inevitable, perhaps.
BR [00:03:14] [Laughs] Yeah. But I have to say that we are a very noisy family. But the thing that I appreciate the most is that music really for me was so natural. And I consider piano my main voice much more than my actual voice. And yeah, it's part of, it is an extension of my body in a certain way.
AM [00:03:37] Yes, I think that's right. And I think what's wonderful is that the heart speaks through your body as well, you know, in the sense of through your fingers. So have you lived with these Chopin etudes for a long time?
BR [00:03:54] Well, actually, every student of piano at some time in his life and his academic studies has, uh, to practice the Chopin Etudes because it's really a turning point in the technique.
BR [00:04:09] And of course, I studied some of them, but it's a very recent thing that I'm playing the complete set of the Opus 25. And it's a thing that I wanted to do since long time because I think that especially this set of etudes, you know, Chopin wrote two sets, but I think that this set is really conceived as one piece and it's actually a very dramatic one. And I feel also quite linked to the period of life when Chopin composed this piece because he was a young man and had just left Poland, his home country, in order to find success and to be a musician in France and to be a recognized musician. He loved Poland very much, so he missed his country, but at the same time, he was very, very critical. Reason for that, he couldn't go back there even to visit his dear sister. So it was a very controversial time. And, you know, in those years, he moved to Paris and he falls in love with George Sand, and George Sand was the most important woman in his life.
BR [00:05:26] But again, George Sand was not the typical woman because she was wearing trousers and, you know, smoking the cigar and having kids without being married. So can you imagine such a woman?
BR [00:05:40] And at that time, he also started being ill, the reason for that they moved to Palma de Mallorca for some months and staying there and, you know, the inhabitants of the island were looking, like, so suspiciously at them because they were not married. So it was, you know, it's not the kind of life that you would expect from this kind of composer. I mean, you know, a composer that writes such beautiful melodies and so heartfelt and, you know, beyond the surface of beauty, there is such a deep sea. And I think that this set of etudes really show all these controversial life and at the same time a big love for life and also for sadness.
BR [00:06:32] Because sometimes you can feel that he loved to be sad [laughs].
AM [00:06:39] Richly experiencing it, yeah.
BR [00:06:41] Yeah, kind of self-indulgence, like, "I'm sad, but it's OK to be sad and there is certain beauty in it."
AM [00:06:48] If you were to meet him and you were thinking about these pieces, is there a question you would ask him?
BR [00:06:53] Oh, there are so many I would ask him. Yeah, because the Chopin, you know what? I realized that, well, first of all, the main problem of playing Chopin is that he changed so many times, idea. You know, if you look at one edition is different from the other one, the French edition, the German edition, the manuscript he changes dynamics, notes. Also, we shouldn't forget that he was a teacher himself. So, for example, there is an etude that where it changed notes because his pupil was not that good and he couldn't take that chord. So, you know, for a very down to earth reason. And so if I could meet him, oh my god, I would love that. And I would love to ask him so many questions because there are so many unsolved questions with the etudes. And on one hand it's very nice because it leaves you free to choose your own way. But at the same time, I think with his idea of music and of sound and of technique is a very peculiar one and a very specific one. So it's important to give dignity to his concept of, uh, sound and music making.
AM [00:08:13] And that special interior psychological basis for the music as well.
BR [00:08:18] Well, you know, also this is another point. He thought of this music to be played in, you know, living rooms, for a small amount of friends. And he was a very sick person, so very fragile, with very faint hands. And I believe also not a big sound. And now we are playing on the grand pianos for 2,000, 3,000 seat halls. So it's completely different. And, you know, you need to have this giant sound for the halls where we are playing and a very healthy sound, too, because otherwise, people who pay the the worst ticket, they hear nothing.
[00:09:01] And, uh, so of course it's changed, but, um, I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing because still the world is, you know, has its own evolution. And I don't think it's a reason for giving up with Chopin's music. I played the Chopin Preludes on period instruments and I practiced a lot. And I realized why you write certain things and these things are not possible anymore on the modern instruments, for example, the pedals. You know, he writes such long pedals and, you know, sustaining pedal at that time was not that well made. So you would take super long pedals and it wouldn't affect anything. Now the pedal is so efficient that if you take such a long pedal, it is completely blurred and people understand nothing of what you are doing, so of course, we need to change, but the thing is that it's not being not respecting the composer's will, but really to understand what he had in mind and then to give dignity to these indications. So if you change the pedal now, doesn't mean that you don't respect Chopin's will, it's just that you understood what he meant. And you are trying to make it understandable for people that are listening now in the hall, and they don't have access to the score when they are listening. So, yeah, it's a very complicated issue, but very fascinating one.
AM [00:10:38] It is. So the Chopin Etudes, Opus 25. And so that's the first half of the concert. And then the second half is begins with Miroirs, and the style of, you know, from from this kind of deep feeling of sadness to a kind of a color palette, it's a completely different thing.
BR [00:11:00] It's a completely different concept of sound. The Miroirs are really paintings for piano. And, you know, if you go to Musee d'Orsay in Paris and you walk through the halls of the museum, you can see what it means on a visual level. So Ravel was trying to to paint landscapes and light and shadows and sounds of the nature. So in a very three-dimensional way sometimes, and in a very evocative way. I think it's an amazing work because, you know, you have got the feeling, for example, with Noctuelles, the first piece, you really feel the hysteria of the movement of the butterflies in the night, or the Barque sur l'océan, you really feel this ship going through the waves of...
AM [00:11:56] The boat on the ocean.
BR [00:11:57] Yeah, the boat on the ocean. And you can see the movement. You can see the light of the sun on the sea and you can see the storm. You can feel the thunder, far away, coming, approaching and you can see the boat struggling for its life. It's amazing how Ravel uses the piano sound to evoke all these images. And it gives a lot of freedom, not only to the performer, but also to the audience, that is, really can imagine whatever.
AM [00:12:29] Do you find yourself making or seeing images as you play of Spain, for instance, or of the Vallée at the end?
BR [00:12:40] Absolutely. This music is so descriptive and I think it would be impossible not to have an image when you're playing such music. You know, when we play, we have to tell stories. And in this case, actually, it's easier because Ravel himself provides already the story. But still, you need to have one in mind. Otherwise the audience doesn't know what to get.
AM [00:13:05] And then Stravinsky, the Firebird, there's a story. Goodness.
BR [00:13:13] [Laughs] That's a tough story.
AM [00:13:15] That's a tough story.
BR [00:13:16] Yeah. Well, yeah. With the Stravinsky, it's even more developed, this thing, because there is not only a story, but there is real movement from the ballet and there is a variety of sounds which comes from the orchestra. To put all of these in one keyboard with one person is quite a challenge. I would say at the same time, again, there is a lot of freedom because first of all, I am the conductor of myself, so I don't have to, you know, to deal with 60 or 70 or 100 people on stage.
BR [00:13:49] And I'm responsible for myself, which is a really good thing. And it really gives opportunity to explore all the possibilities of piano, of the piano, because, you know, sometimes the piano is seen, at least by musicians as an instrument with a lot of limits. You know, if you go listen to a standard lesson in a conservatory, you hear, oh, please think like a singer or think of the bow of the violin or the cello or think of the clarinet. You always have to think of something else rather than the piano. Never the piano himself. So to find finally someone that believes that the piano can recreate an orchestra, but with its own possibility, I think it's it's amazing.
AM [00:14:39] And in this case, it's Guido Agosti.
BR [00:14:41] Yeah.
AM [00:14:42] And can you tell me about him?
BR [00:14:45] Yeah. He was one of the most important pianists and teachers of last century in Italy. And actually the transcription isn't that far away from the time of composition of the Firebird, because Firebird was 1911 or 1912, I do remember. 1911, I think, and the transcription was made in 1928, so not so many years apart.
BR [00:15:10] But it's very interesting to see how he conceived the orchestral sound of Stravinsky and how he puts everything together in the hand of one pianist. And I think it's a very clever transcription because first of all, is thought by a pianist. So he knows on the performance level how it works.
BR [00:15:35] Also, it is very fascinating to see how the writing for piano changes with Agosti because, for example, Stravinsky himself transcribed Petrouchka for piano solo. But it's Stravinsky transcribing Stravinsky, so it's always him. With Agosti, it's already changing. So I think it's a very interesting transcription. Yeah.
AM [00:16:02] Agosti was working from his own experience of Stravinsky.
BR [00:16:05] Yeah, exactly. And, actually, I would be curious to know if Stravinsky ever heard of this transcription because, of course, he was alive and he might have heard of that. But we know nothing.
AM [00:16:19] Agosti's an interesting character, because he was highly respected, but he didn't perform very much. Right?
BR [00:16:24] Yeah, he's a referral point in Italy, both as a pianist and as a pedagog. But it's true that he didn't perform much. And, you know, sometimes in classical music, you find these kind of personalities that were absolutely mind blowing, but at the same time couldn't stand the pressure on stage. It's a pity for the audience who missed that [laughs]. Yeah, but at least he left something else. For example, this transcription, you know, it's already a turning point because it also puts the limits of a pianist beyond imagination of what's doable and what's not doable. So it's still, you know, he left something.
AM [00:17:11] Did you ever have a teacher that had studied with him?
BR [00:17:14] Yeah, my teacher. My teacher studied with Agosti.
AM [00:17:16] Your teacher was? I'm sorry.
BR [00:17:18] Benedetto Lupo. Benedetto Lupo had some lessons with Agosti, but basically all the good pianists in Italy had lessons with Agosti.
AM [00:17:28] Must have been quite a teacher. Do you have students?
BR [00:17:31] Oh, no. I think I would be a terrible teacher! [Laughs] But, um, I think it's because I had great teachers and I really had the best education possible ever. It's, uh, you know, being a teacher is, I think it would be very difficult and would need a lot of experience. I wouldn't mind starting teaching, also for one reason, that is when you try to explain things to people, you understand them much better. I would love to do that because, you know, there is a very big amount of intuition in being an artist or a performer. But to understand how that intuition works would be a very interesting thing for me.
AM [00:18:26] Yes. I think you'd be great. Beatrice Rana, thank you so much for your time today. And thank you so much for this program. Looking forward to hearing it very much.
BR [00:18:39] Oh, thank you. My pleasure.