Beatriz Boizan was nineteen when she left Cuba. She arrived in Canada to celebrate her 20th birthday with a big, resounding YAY!
I spotted the pianist on You Tube in a performance of Haydn’s majestic Sonata no 52 in Eb. Recorded “LIVE” in concert, the playing revealed an engaging spontaneity and sparkle. Because I’d been studying the composition over a period of months, I messaged Beatriz about her edition and articulation choices. From her thoughtful replies and specific references to performance practices, sprang a full length interview that explores Boizan’s musical life and antecedents; cultural background and artistic pursuits.
About your beginnings as a piano student, tell me about your early years in Cuba. What was the artistic environment? Can you describe more about your grandmother who mentored you, and her musical training.
Yes, I’m Canadian of Cuban origin. Music was always in the air at home. My mother played the piano. My aunt is also a pianist and an Opera singer residing in Spain. We were all taught how to play the piano by my late grand-mother Esclarecida Guilarte (1910-2007) who was a special individual: incredibly charming and gentle.
She was self-taught and possessed an incredible intuition for music. She was my first piano teacher and specifically influenced me to learn and perform the “Danzas Cubanas” by Ignacio Cervantes (1847-1905). Performing his Cuban dances is my favourite moment in my recitals as I have the warmest memories from growing up in Baracoa (Cuba).
Cervantes: Danzas Cubanas
I lived in Cuba for the perfect amount of time. It was long enough that allowed me to consciously learn its culture (its extraordinary music, its language) but short enough that allowed me to make a smooth and positive transition to another culture when I emigrated to Canada.
As you very well know, Cuba has rich musical and cultural traditions which are not that straightforward. The multi-ethnicity given by a history that includes the aboriginal Taíno and Ciboney people in its origins, followed by the Spanish colonization and the introduction of African slaves, the Machado and Batista regimes, the Cuban Revolution, the close relationship with the former USSR yet close proximity to the USA, to mention a few facts, makes Cuba a complex cultural place and somewhat difficult to make sense of, especially as a child.
I was exposed to Classical Music from an early age: opera, art songs, piano music, and symphonic music. I still remember those memorable records from the 50’s by Vladimir Horowitz, Arthur Rubinstein, Claudio Arrau, Jascha Heifetz, Herbert von Karajan and Maria Callas, to mention a few, that my grand-mother used to play at home. I developed a special love for singers which I inherited from my aunt (my mother‘s sister) who is an opera singer. I accompanied her in public before I played my first solo piano recital. In a way, my relationship with singers started long before I thought of becoming a soloist.
Moving to Canada has been the most liberating experience for me. Oddly enough, when I was back in Cuba I was in no mood to play Cuban music. It is possible that being overexposed to it didn’t help. It wasn’t until I moved to Canada that I gained a true appreciation for our music and its contagious rhythms and melodies. For some years, I completely forgot about it and it wasn’t until recently when I recorded my CD PASIÓN that I revisited some of these compositions and finally embraced the idea of making a lifelong commitment to it. Being a modern Canadian woman has given me the strength, the belief and the confidence to bring this repertoire to life!
Who was your most influential mentor besides your grandmother?
It’s very difficult to pick just one. One very important phase in my life was the transition to a new culture in Canada which coincided with my transition to adulthood and definitely my training in the Canadian Universities had a tremendous impact on my development as a pianist and human being.
I consider Professors Rena Sharon (University of British Columbia) and Jacques Després (University of Alberta) the two most influential teachers during my University years. Sharon’s principal teachers were Menahem Pressler and Gyorgy Sebok. Després’ teachers were Christiane Sénart, Gyorgy Sebok, Adele Marcus and Gilbert Kalish. I found them very interesting in the sense that despite the stylistic differences, which are completely natural and to be expected, their approach to piano technique was very similar. It’s possible the fact that both were students of Gyorgy Sebok had something to do with that.
And in particular, tell us about your experience working with Alicia DeLarrocha. What was that like? What impression did she make upon you? (she’s known for having had very small hands, but possessing a dynamic technique, and of course, her Spanish music performances and recordings are memorable)
Did she influence you re: Your Latino/Spanish works, CD?
My studies with Alicia de Larrocha mark a very unique chapter in my life. At that time, I was also studying at the University of British Columbia under the guidance of Prof. Rena Sharon. I used to travel often from Vancouver to Barcelona to attend my piano lessons with Alicia which were in the format of master-class at the Marshall Academy.
I first listened to her records back in Cuba when I was four years old. My aunt introduced me to them by telling me: “please listen to this wonderful lady from Spain play Mozart so wonderfully and who has tiny hands like you”. I was mesmerized by the clarity and beauty of her sound. Her records, together with those by Horowitz, Rubinstein and Arrau were the main source of inspiration for my early years of piano training.
I still feel that the opportunity of being inches away from her and watching her play from so close was a dream. I still can’t believe that a girl from Cuba could have access to a piano legend like her. When I first played for her, my grand-mother was present. They met and chatted like a pair of ladies from the past. Being in the presence of these two very special people in my career was magic time!
Alicia was incredibly appreciative of my culture and shared some of the most charming stories about her visit to Cuba back in the 50’s. What a treat to hear her share those! Her knowledge of music was superb. Like my Canadian teachers Rena Sharon and Jacques Després, she was a firm believer on using proper arm weight and rotation as the most efficient way to execute with ease and grace at the piano as well as the importance of developing a vast dynamic range and solid musicianship for expression. Her extensive knowledge of the Catalan Piano School traditions definitely had a tremendous influence on my interpretations of the Spanish and Latin American Music repertoire, without a doubt.
Let’s talk about the Haydn you recorded on You Tube and various choices related to phrasing/articulation.
I’ve consulted several editions with the purpose of comparing and finding stylistic/dynamic differences, etc. Some examples are: Köhler/Peters, Martienssen/Peters, the Urtext editions by Henle Verlag, among others. However, a far more interesting aspect in my decision making for my interpretation of Haydn’s sonatas was the instrument for which these extraordinary compositions were written and how it differs from the modern grand piano. Haydn’s sonatas were originally written for the fortepiano which has a much lighter tone and less sustaining power than the modern piano. If the sound of the attack decays faster on a fortepiano resulting on having considerably less sustaining power than a grand piano, a slightly more detached articulation makes sense, generally speaking.
At this point of my development as an artist, I’m incredibly driven to give the most compelling and authentic interpretations of Haydn’s pieces to the best of my ability by using all the musical tools I know (rhythmic, melodic and harmonic design, the articulation and touch, the architecture, etc.) whether the result is the popular way or not. I’m fully aware I’m not playing a fortepiano and I’m a pianist in the 21stcentury with years of performing on the modern piano. It is my wish to bring these compositions with fresh ears to concert audiences and I’m willing to take risks as necessary to achieve this goal.
My passion for Haydn’s music started as a teenager and still today I’m drawn to him for his fun sense of humour and the joyful energy of his music which is infectious. His sonata in E-flat major H. 52 is a work of genius. The brilliance of his writing lies on his ability to convey emotions that range from extreme laughter to the deepest sorrows by simply using the basics of music: rhythm, melody, harmony and structure, without the need to add any extra artifice or excessive embellishments. Haydn excels in this to such degree that if by any chance the interpreter doesn’t understand how those basics work and apply to the choices in articulation, timing and touch, he can very easily expose any weakness in his/her musicianship. Haydn is an assertive composer, a man of wisdom and his compositions are a thrill to perform.
What do you see in your future as a pianist?
I wish to show the whole world how beautiful Classical Music is whether through the compositions of Haydn, Cervantes, Liszt, or Lecuona, to mention a few. I specifically admire Cecilia Bartoli because of her unique love for Baroque music, her determination to bring it to concert audiences and to create awareness towards obscure compositions from this period. I have a similar desire with the Spanish and Latin American repertoire as my niche and passion.
Ponce: Estudios de Concierto #8 and #1