Beatrice Rana in Philadelphia before her return to Carnegie Hall (Photo credit: Michelle Gustafson)
A Young Pianist Held Carnegie Hall Rapt in March. She’s Already Back.
By Arthur Lubow
The New York Times
June 6, 2019
PHILADELPHIA — Growing up in a small village in Puglia, in southern Italy, Beatrice Rana so outshone the other piano students that she felt little need to practice.
So when she was about 9, her parents, both professional musicians, decided to jolt her out of complacency. They entered her in a national competition near Florence, expecting that the results would teach her a lesson.
“They said, ‘You will see there are children who study and who are better than you,’” Ms. Rana recalled in a recent interview.
She went north. And she won first prize.
But Ms. Rana, now 26, saw her parents’ point, and learned that she’d need to work harder to make the most of her remarkable potential.
“They knew you need hard discipline, especially with piano,” she said. “They wanted me to be happy and they knew that I am ambitious. If you want to be a soloist, there is very little chance to become one.”
She was speaking earlier this week in Philadelphia, where she was rehearsing Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin. They will perform the bruising piece on Friday at Carnegie Hall.
The appearance comes just a few months after her solo recital debut at Carnegie, in March. Anthony Tommasini, the Times’s chief classical music critic, wrote in his review that her rendition of Chopin’s Op. 25 Études “set a new standard for me,” adding that “she made the pieces sound as poetic and colorful as anything Chopin ever wrote.”
It turns out to have been something of a last-minute coup. In advance of the New York recital, Ms. Rana envisioned complementing the other two pieces on the program, by Ravel and Stravinsky, with something by Schumann. But she was advised — though the logic is still fuzzy to her — that Chopin would be a better choice for a Carnegie debut.
So she learned the Op. 25 Études in just two months.
It was a triumph of strong technique. But unlike some young pianists, Ms. Rana distinguishes herself not merely through virtuoso technique and speed, but also by a musical intelligence that finds shape and structure in what she plays. Her earliest musical passion was for Bach, which she says she inherited from her father, a rehearsal accompanist for opera companies. (Her mother teaches piano and music theory, and her younger sister, Ludovica, is a cellist.)
“Her Bach was even there when she was 10,” Benedetto Lupo, her longtime mentor, said in an interview. “When you are a child, it is not so common that you can play Bach with such a command. She was already a concert pianist, putting things together in a way that makes sense, not just going fast or loud.”
Ms. Rana won the prestigious Montreal International Musical Competition in 2011, her breakthrough on the international scene. “Anyone else would have been enjoying the moment and recovering from the stress,” Mr. Lupo said. But Ms. Rana decided to jump right into preparations for the quadrennial Van Cliburn competition in 2013, where she took the silver.
It was a sign of her intense drive and maturity that she chose to record Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations, a pinnacle of the keyboard repertory, so early in her career. The 2017 release won her Gramophone magazine’s award for young artist of the year.
“She really found her own voice in a piece that has been recorded by the great pianists,” Mr. Lupo said, “and found a way to make it her own without doing anything crazy.”
While playing the “Goldbergs,” she said, she was attuned not only to the overarching structure of the work but also to the colorings of the different variations. The piano, which had not yet been invented in Bach’s time, offers rich possibilities of timbre that the composer’s harpsichord couldn’t provide.
“Some variations are clearly inspired by the organ or woodwinds,” Ms. Rana said. “I think it would be unfair not to think of his inspirations, because the piano is capable of this, even though of course he didn’t write for piano.”
Yet there are some works she still feels too young to perform. “I could never play Schubert’s last sonatas,” she said. “I could never play also Beethoven’s last sonatas — although I feel so conflicted, because I love the music so much that I am tempted.”
She is learning that composer’s Fourth Concerto, but hasn’t decided whether she is ready to perform it. And even earlier Beethoven sonatas have stymied her, in particular the middle-period landmark known as the “Appassionata.”
“The ‘Appassionata’ is one of the pieces I practiced most in my life,” she said. “I was very frustrated. It can happen when you swim not in your own waters.”
Eventually, she conceded defeat, concluding that she couldn’t — for the moment, at least — authentically convey the work’s tempestuous emotions.
“Sometimes I feel that being a woman, basically a happy woman, it is hard for me to do some of these pieces,” she said. “It makes it difficult for me to get what he wants.”
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