Clara Rodriguez – in the mood for tango

Pianist Clara Rodriguez

London-based Venezuelan pianist, and champion of Venezuelan composers for the piano, Clara Rodriguez returns to the Southbank Centre on 10th December for a concert of music by South-American composers, including Villas-Lobos, Piazzolla and Ruiz, and Debussy. This promises to be a really wonderful evening of music, not just for piano, but for ensemble too, as Clara will be joined by Wilmer Sifontes on percussion, cellist Jordan Gregoris and violinist Ilya Movchan. The concert also features two London premieres of works by Colombian composer Germán Darío Pérez.

I reviewed Clara Rodriguez and friends at Purcell Room last autumn, and Clara also features in my Meet the Artist interview series. Read her interview with me here. And here is Clara in her own words about her forthcoming concert:

All concerts at the Southbank are special events, the magic of one evening only, the energy, imagination and love that goes into putting the programme together is part of our artistic proposal to the world. My concert on Monday December 10th at the Purcell Room is going to be another exciting yet very different experience to the other nine or ten ones I have played there in the past.

The high inspiration, poetry and skill behind all the pieces I am playing makes my heart jump with emotion. Just reading Verlaine’s Clair de lune poem makes me realize even more deeply about the beauty of Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque, which I could play for ever!

Votre âme est un paysage choisi
Que vont charmant masques et bergamasques
Jouant du luth et dansant et quasi
Tristes sous leurs déguisements fantasques.

Tout en chantant sur le mode mineur
L’amour vainqueur et la vie opportune
Ils n’ont pas l’air de croire à leur bonheur
Et leur chanson se mêle au clair de lune,

Au calme clair de lune triste et beau,
Qui fait rêver les oiseaux dans les arbres
Et sangloter d’extase les jets d’eau,
Les grands jets d’eau sveltes parmi les marbres.

Your soul is a chosen landscape
Charmed by masquers and bergamaskers
Playing the lute and dancing and almost
Sad beneath their fanciful disguises.

Even while singing, in a minor key,
Of victorious love and fortunate living
They do not seem to believe in their happiness,
And their song mingles with the moonlight,

The still moonlight, sad and beautiful,
Which sets the birds in the trees dreaming,
And makes the fountains sob with ecstasy,
The tall slender fountains among the marble statues!

I have always been interested by the output of contemporary composers, their loneliness and their bravery in expressing their truths out on paper, apart from appreciating their talent, of course. On this occasion I will première three preludes by the young Venezuelan composer Mirtru Escalona Mijares who lives in Paris and has kindly dedicated the last of the Three Short Preludes to me. It is based on a tanka by the buddhist monk RYOKAN (1758-1831), it is called “…contempler longuement…” in it I have to use special concentration skills to play pianissimo and very slowly as opposed to our usual kind of preoccupation which is to play fast and lots of notes. Mirtru has been working very hard in purifying or cleansing musical phrases and thoughts. It is a challenge! Here is the poem the third Prelude is inspired by:

“Je n’ai rien de spécial à vous offrir juste une fleur de lotus dans un petit vase à contempler longuement “.

I have nothing special to offer to you/Just a lotus flower In a small vase/To be contemplated for a long time

“Hommage à Chopin”, a tour de force written by Villa-Lobos will follow. It is a strange piece, not exactly romantic, I think it has the force of the Amazonian jungle and depicts Chopin’s passionate torments and obsessions. It has a greater number of melodic layers than most piano pieces thus making it quite virtuosic.

It was while studying with Nadia Boulanger in Paris that Piazzolla was urged to develop his love for tango thus creating the “new tango” in which he transformed this old Argentinean dance into music capable of a variety of expression, fusing sharply-contrasted moods: his tangos are by turn fiery, melancholic, passionate, tense, violent, lyric and always driven by an endless supply of rhythmic energy. I am thrilled to be able to play Le Grand Tango, one of his most Classical pieces, and then in the same evening The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires with leading young performers from France, Jordan Gregoris on the cello and from Russia, Ksenia Berenzina on the violin. You’ll see what exquisite pair of musicians they are. We are having the fun of our lives playing this music. It is luxury!

Not forgetting my Caribbean roots, I have added three composers from that part of the world, for two reasons, my dear London public expects it and simply because I have so much joy playing them. So, from Cuba a nostalgic Danzón by José María Vitier, who composed the music for the film “Strawberry and Chocolate”, then two London premières will follow by a composer from Bogotá, Colombia, Germán Darío Pérez, in which my friend percussionist Wilmer Sifontes will play the kind of percussion that should accompany a bambuco and then we’ll play together the very lively Zumba que zumba (joropo) written for me by the Venezuelan composer Federico Ruiz, in which Wilmer will play the Venezuelan maracas. I doubt it if this programme could be more exciting or varied!