Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career?
I was brought up by a musical mother who studied the piano with Moisés Moleiro, and sang in the choir in the premiere of the ‘Cantata Criolla’ by Antonio Estévez. Unfortunately she fell ill very young and had to abandon music. When I was 7 I was accepted as a student at the Conservatorio Juan José Landaeta in Caracas where I had the most wonderful and generous teachers. My piano teacher was Guiomar Narváez, strict and very artistic, with a great passion for the classical composers and Latin American music. At 16 I won a scholarship to come to the Royal College of Music in London, where I was assigned to Phyllis Sellick as the teacher who would carry on developing what Mrs. Barbara Boissard and Michael Gough Matthews saw in my style of playing when they heard me in the audition in Caracas. For that I am very grateful: Phyllis was an extraordinary human being who taught me the art of piano playing.
Who or what were the greatest influences on your playing?
My main teachers obviously, including Polish pianist Regina Smenzianka and Paul Badura-Skoda, and also the many concerts I went to as a child growing up in Caracas. I remember listening to Martha Argerich, Claudio Arrau, George Demus, Willhem Kempf, Yoyoma, Alicia De La Rocha, and conductors such as Charles Dutoit, Cuban Nicolás Guillén reciting his poetry, popular singers like Mercedes Sosa, the cinema of Carlos Saura, Stanley Kubrik, Herzog, Chaplin….all these wonderful true artists, giving us the best of their knowledge and gigantic talents, seeing, listening and receiving all the universal and most humane expression and energy.
Then in London I have enjoyed many concerts of classical music and jazz, plus all my friends who also play and are now the great musicians of our time.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career?
Every concert you play, every CD you make is a challenge. To teach very gifted children is also a challenge. I think we face climbing Everest nearly every day! Nothing is easy. To play phrases in the most clear of ways, respecting the intentions of the composer is a challenge. When you decide that you are a pianist you understand that the challenge is what motives you, that’s what takes you out of bed.
A big challenge we face today is that classical music has been marginalised by the media, and by the idea that fashion, cookery and frivolous cinema or football stars are more important than profound thought, creativity and art. We have to keep going, as it is now up to us to make sure that this precious legacy we have acquired through centuries survives. It is a very hard and heavy burden!
Which CD in your discography are you most proud of?
Although I have recorded about 9 hours of music from Venezuela, by Venezuelan composers, I consider them all to be very different from each other. I have also recorded one CD of music by Chopin and another one by Ernesto Lecuona, which will come out in the autumn. I am sensitive to the qualities of the piano, acoustics and sound engineer. I have produced most of my CDs and am in general satisfied with the results; perhaps sometimes I am over critical and cannot bear listening to something that is too slow (I can think of one piece that I let myself be influenced by the engineer and now I do not agree with the tempo…). I think each CD is a world of its own: they are “concepts” and represent moments of our lives.
Critics are not familiar with Venezuelan music and a few years ago those CDs represented a kind of “political statement”. What’s good now is that those critics are more receptive, less “Eurocentric” and are beginning to understand (after 500 years) that Latin America is part of western culture.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?
I love the Purcell Room, the Wigmore Hall, St John’s Smith Square, Invalides in Paris, and the Teatro Teresa Carreño and Municipal in Caracas. Any hall with a decent piano and lovely audience will be always great!
Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?
I love every piece I play, and with each of them there really is a love affair. From Bach, Scarlatti, Mateo Albéniz, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, to Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninov, Debussy, Ravel, Gershwin, Scriabin…the list is very long. Equally I have to constantly listen to classical music, salsa and Latin American popular music.
Who are your favourite musicians?
All the musicians that show passion, love, understanding, involvement, imagination… There are millions of fantastic musicians in our planet.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to students/aspiring musicians?
I think I have answered this above, but there is a concept I have discovered recently and it is to do with sharing with the young one’s knowledge, experiences and very importantly giving these young, very talented musicians the opportunities to perform and express their ideas and art. I think experienced, successful musicians should open the path for the young. Not many people in the “business” will do it for them now days.
What are you working on at the moment?
Beethoven ‘Emperor’ Concerto, Mozart Sonatas, Villa-Lobos, Chopin, Piazzolla, exploring Colombian music…
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Perfect happiness can be found anywhere, at any time, the thing is to be aware of this and enjoy it while it lasts.
‘Joropo’ by Moisés Moleiro
Caracas-born pianist, Clara Rodriguez studied with Phyllis Sellick after winning a scholarship from the Venezuelan Arts Council to train in London at the Royal College of Music. There she was the recipient of numerous prizes and performed as a soloist with the RCM orchestras including De Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain and the Ravel Concerto in G at St. John’s Smith Square.
In Caracas she made her debut playing Mozart’s last piano concerto with the Simón Bolívar Orchestra under the baton of José Antonio Abreu at the age of sixteen; from then on Clara Rodriguez’s career as a concert pianist has taken her to perform all over the world. Her large and interesting repertoire covers works of the best known Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Modern composers; she has also intensely promoted the music of the Latin American continent.
Her discography includes CDs of the piano music of the Venezuelan composers Moisés Moleiro, Federico Ruiz and Teresa Carreño; her catalogue also includes Popular Venezuelan Music Vol. 1; El Cuarteto con Clara Rodríguez en vivo as well as the piano works by the Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona and of Frederic Chopin late works.
Her recordings are regularly played on BBC Radio3, Classic FM, Radio Nacional de Venezuela, Radio France International, and networks from Argentina to the USA, Australia and China.
Clara Rodriguez teaches piano at the Junior Department of The Royal College of Music in London.
Bravo Clara – a lovely read!
Thank you Frances for this interview. Warm wishes. Clara
Many thanks for taking part, Clara!