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Oscar Rodriguez: A Pianist Speaks Music

Interview
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Sat Apr 27th, 2019

Oscar Rodriguez

A gifted performer, the multilingual Oscar’s engaging personality has earned him rapport with audiences of all ages despite his youth. He is a senior at the Conservatorio Bruno Maderna in Cesena, Italy, where he has studied since 2009, and will present his dissertation and graduate this June. Under the guidance of his mentor, the pianist Francesco Attesti, and coach/manager Gwendolyn Tibbals, Oscar has participated in Master Classes in Italy and performed throughout the country (Tuscany, Emiglia-Romagna, Sicily, Rotary in Cortona) and well as Hartford, CT; Beacon, Fishkill, Pawling, Poughkeepsie, Rhinebeck, Suffern and Wappingers in New York state; and in Arlington and Sandgate, VT. Oscar loves chess and is completely fluent in English, Spanish, and Italian.

KM: I’m looking forward to your upcoming concert on Saturday afternoon, May 4 at 4pm on the Smithfield Church 1866 Steinway in Amenia. I think you have chosen an interesting program. Why did you decide to open with Beethoven’s Op. 110?

OR: As I read the last line in an essay by R.W. Emerson (Self-Reliance) which said “Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles,” I realized that this sonata is just that. Beethoven was the first recorded composer to connect music to philosophical ideas. His composition always embodied two principles, which he took after his philosophy teacher, Kant. These two principles are Winderstrebende Prinzip (The principles of opposition, resistance or force) and Bittende Prinzip (Principle of prayer or supplication). Beethoven was a man who had great obstacles while writing this sonata, mostly health issues and his deafness. The man who prayed for a better tomorrow, who supplicated in suffering, is the same man who opposed these two principles with his own power, his own force, his own skill. He could not let these things keep him from composing and in the 3rd movement, which is an arioso with fugue, he shows these two principles in such a clear manner. The suffering man supplicating and in suffering, which he represents with the lyrical arioso, spends a brief time grieving over the earthly misfortunes, so the arioso is short even on paper. With the fugue, he elevates the man into the divinity which is in himself; counterpoint is historically connected to religion and all things spiritual and sacred. Beethoven paints a clear picture of the driving force behind all his works, his message. Much more can be said about this sonata, but I think that if I intend to expose Beethoven to an audience, I must give the right message—who Beethoven was and his principles. This piece is a triumph of principles.

KM: The humor of the Scherzo, the second movement, is quite unique. What are your thoughts about the Scherzo?

OR: The Molto Allegro of the second movement is the opposition of the first movement. The first movement is quite lyrical and contemplative in nature. The 2nd movement is its opposing force, military like, martial. It is the grounding, the coming back to earth from the airy ascending and descending arpeggi which seem to give a sense of flight in the first movement. If I had to imbue the first two movements with some sort of Hermetic principle, I would say the first one is the female energy, from whence all things are born and the second movement is the male force, which keeps laws in place.

KM: Beethoven at first thought that he had finished the work on Christmas Day, 1821, yet went back to revise it a bit more. Do you think the exultant conclusion has anything to do either with Christmas or the recovery of his health?

OR: I believe it was a bit of both. It is quite difficult to say: I haven’t found any letters pertaining to the matter that give a clear idea. We must consider that Beethoven was also working on more than one thing at once. This is one of three commissioned sonatas and he was being paid less than he asked for, so maybe he lacked a bit of motivation.

KM: I’m really delighted you are going to perform all six of Franz Liszt’s Consolations, which are not much performed. What drew you to those unique pieces?

OR: I saw in these consolations a foreshadowing of Liszt’s late years. We all know Liszt as the great virtuoso who wrote countless pieces of music and transcriptions and yet we only know a very small part of his work. In relation to this, all I have to say is that the audiences and musicians who listen to Liszt’s music have deemed most of this unknown body of works as perhaps annoyingly meaningless piano acrobatics throughout time, which is why they have remained obscure. We know the more beautiful music he wrote, which is also full of acrobatics, let’s call it more meaningful acrobatics. However, the audience and other musicians might be surprised to meet the more intimate, poetic Liszt. I say this set of pieces foreshadows his later life because here we have a more spiritual Liszt, using his E# Major with relative minor and Cb Major to convey the spirituality of the work. He is starting to realize that there is more to his ‘rockstar’ life—that there is an internal life he will later on realize. These consolations are not only spiritual, some have a spur of virtuosity, and they shows he is not ready to be the spiritual Liszt of the later years just yet.

KM: I see you have scheduled some comic relief after the Consolations: Chopin’s Scherzo no.1 Op. 20. Any comment?

OR:  Well, this scherzo is a jolt of energy after having listened to almost 20 minutes of contemplative music. I also have a close bond with this scherzo because it is one of the first grand pieces I learned.

KM: I’m delighted you chose to perform a Chopin Ballade. Chopin invented the Ballade, yet they are not much played on the stage in the United States. Perhaps that’s because the form is linked to a Romantic folk poetry structure that has disappeared from poetic form or that pianists don’t want to tackle repetition. I once heard a pianist perform a Chopin Ballade and she concentrated so much on trying to add slight dynamic differences to the refrain and in doing so she was slightly off and unbalanced in presenting the whole work. Why did you choose this Ballade, No.2, Op. 38?

OR: This Ballade chose me. I heard it for the first time, and I fell in love with it. Chopin dedicated this ballade to Schumann, and I think it embodies some of his personality traits, such as extreme mood swings. This ballade has a connection to the Beethoven Sonata, in my opinion. I believe this Ballade contains the two principles which I spoke of earlier. The sweet melody, which is almost like a prayer or a memory disappears into a coming storm, a tempest, the total opposite of everything that just happened. Much can be said about this Ballade and its connection to the Beethoven sonata, but all in all, I think everyone deserves to listen to the ending in this Ballade.

KM: Why did you decide to pursue your doctorate in Italy?

OR: Well, what a better place to study art and music that Italy? However, I would not have known that if it weren’t because of my mentor Francesco Attesti and my coach and manager Gwendolyn Tibbals. They are quite amazing, they directed a teenager with no direction—all I had was my love of music, which I discovered at the age of 16. I didn’t even know a career could be had from making music. I give thanks to these two great souls, and to all the teachers and people who supported me for having led me. It never crossed my mind to do so but here I am!

KM: I think you are a very talented pianist. I look forward to not only this upcoming concert but following your career, which already has had an amazing beginning.