Venezuelan-born pianist Vanessa Perez has just released her new CD Chopin: The Complete Preludes and it is a brilliant recording that features the complete Op. 28 cycle plus the 2 remaining ones as well as the Bacarolle op. 60 and Fantaisie op. 49. You can purchase the album here or on the link at the bottom.
Vanessa stopped to talk to us for a bit about Chopin and some of her career highlights.
CM: I love Chopin, and his pieces, especially the Etudes and the Preludes, are like little symphonies. They’re all very powerful pieces, and yet they all have their own drama or comedy. They have their own space to unfold, and when one is over, the next one picks up from there! Great recording you made!
VP: Thanks! I love the etudes as well! The most beautiful preludes written for piano, I feel, are his, and in the preludes, there are such personal statements, and such different sentiments. This is what really moves me so much about the preludes, is all these statements of how emotional a state is that one could be in. The variety is incredible. And you’re right, one after the other–Sometimes they do stand on their own, but also, I feel with some of them, he’s introducing. Sometimes he ends with the same note that the piece after starts with.
CM: He likes to start beautiful, and then it ends spectacularly–Pretty much all of them are like that!
VP: Yes! And also endings that are very enigmatic–He ends with questions, like “where is this really going to go?”. I feel that they’re also fateful statements. I would say that there’s such a human fate-quality to all of them. And a very sad fate as he gets near the end, the last one, definitely. It ends with those three notes, that mean for me, 3 knocks on the door meaning fate has called.
CM: It’s funny, how come for Chopin it’s 3 knocks, but for Beethoven it’s 4? [both laugh]
VP: It’s like “Oh, my God, what happened?”!
Promo for Vanessa Perez’s Chopin Preludes CD
CM: At some point you worked with Claudio Arrau?
VP: I had one audition with Claudio Arrau. He had seen a video of my Grieg Piano Concerto performance–my mother through someone had sent it to him, but he really liked it, and then he gave me the audition. It was very hard to play for Arrau at this time because he was very protected from his people–He had an accident and hurt his hand at the time, so they didn’t want him to be disturbed or upset, so it was almost a miracle that this happened, even as we were going to train in the house of his nephew in Long Island. My mother said “Don’t get too excited. This might not happen!”, and it did. Even though I was almost 14 at the time, I knew who he was–he was one of my heroes, so, I played some of the Beethoven Sonata #3, a Chopin Scherzo, and the Liszt Rigoletto Paraphrase! We had such a beautiful conversation. He talked about [Teresa] Carreño, and he gave me so much encouragement. It’s an honor that one of your heroes really enjoys what you do and speaks to you with such high words. What can I say, Chris, it’s been an inspiration to have that in my life. That moment happening in that afternoon. I learned a lot, and he also was one of the key people that encouraged me to play the Chopin repertoire. He was like “You must learn the Chopin E Minor Piano Concerto!”, so right after the audition I learned it immediately and performed it in Venezuela! I was like “Oh my God, Arrau said that!”. [laughs] It’s an honor!
CM: Can you also talk about your connections to two other Venezuelan musicians Gabriela Montero and Gustavo Dudamel?
VP: Gabriela’s a friend of mine! She’s one of my best friends, and I played with her in concert! Gustavo, I worked with in concert a few years ago as well–We played the Prokofiev #3 [Piano Concerto], and of course there’s other wonderful Venezuelan conductors that I’ve also worked with there and abroad.
CM: Love Prokofiev! Have you done any of Prokofiev’s solo piano music?
VP: The 7th Sonata–that and just the 3rd concerto and one of his chamber works, the Sonata for Cello and Piano.
CM: That’s great! You almost never hear the Cello & Piano sonata!
VP: It’s such a haunting piece! I love it!
Because of performing a lot in Venezuela when I was younger, I got lots of opportunities to perform with orchestras–a lot of my training in the earlier years was preparing piano concertos, because I always had invitations to perform in Venezuela, so this was really beautiful to have such a goal every year. I knew I could go back home and the professional orchestras were inviting me to play, so no matter where I lived–either in the States or in Europe, they would fly me, and I would perform, so this is one of the gifts that Venezuela also gave me, to play for big crowds and share music making all the time, with orchestras you don’t usually get to work with until you are more mature, or if you are in competitions. In Venezuela, they really nurture talent, and they believe in you and give you opportunities. It is one of the most beautiful things, too, for soloists.
CM: Do you know what your next project is going to be yet, or is that a long time from now?
VP: [laughs] It’s still a secret!
CM: It is classical and it’s written by someone who is no longer alive…
VP: It is classical! Yeah, yeah!
CM: Does his name start with “L”?
VP: Haha! You’re bad! No, you’ll find out!
Schumann: Piano Concerto (I: Allegro affettuoso; Orquesta Sinfonica de Venezuela; Carlos Izcaray, conductor; live in Venezuela, circa 2008)