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A Spanish Legacy: Achúcarro at the Phillips


The pianist Joaquín Achúcharro plays in Washington this weekend.

Last week, I spoke to the pianist Joaquín Achúcarro in Bilbao, where he lives, inasmuch as a traveling concert pianist can be said to live anywhere. Achúcarro, 72, is not a household name, especially in this country, but he has been playing in front of the public for six decades - with, as his Website carefully documents, 206 orchestras and 343 conductors.

Achúcarro, who is also a professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas four months out of the year, is playing at the Phillips Collection on Sunday at the invitation of the Spanish Embassy. The event also marks the official launch of the Joaquín Achúcarro Foundation, set up by patrons and sponsors in Dallas some months ago to perpetuate the artist’s legacy.

His legacy is also getting its due in a DVD that Opus Arte is about to make about him. For this project, he is flying to London next week to record the Brahms Second Piano Concerto – a lifelong favorite – with no less a figure than Colin Davis and the London Symphony Orchestra. Davis said “that it was high time to have a white-haired Brahms Second,” says the pianist.

Achúcarro’s approach is unorthodox in today’s stick-to-the-letter-of-the-score, mechanically perfect musical world. His rubati seem excessive to some; to others, like a throwback to a Golden Age. For all of his reverence for the great composers whose music he plays, he maintains a healthy sense of their humanity as well. “Our duty is first of all to understand what composer does and wants, and then to try to deliver it the best we can, but also to serve the music,” he says. “And maybe sometimes the composer is wrong.”

He adds, “People say you must follow the text. But if you follow the text, perhaps the music is not totally served.” He followed this line of thought when he prepared a revised version of Joaquín Rodrigo’s piano concerto in 1997, at the request of the composer. “Of course I respected his ideas the most I could,” he said, “but many of the piano passages I rewrote because the piano sound better with different notes.”

And he views what he does as a performer as an act of creation in its own right.

“Creation is to order something preexist[ing] in a different way,” he says. “The colors were there before Leonardo pained the Mona Lisa. All he did was to put them in a different way then they were before. … What the interpreter does is exactly what the creator does. We have the notes in the score, and the sounds exist before we put our finger on a key. And so we order the possibilities of sound in a way that didn’t exist before.”

By Anne Midgette  |  May 15, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  interviews  
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