New Classical Tracks: Vanessa Perez

by Julie Amacher, Minnesota Public Radio
June 27, 2012

St. Paul, Minn. — Venezuela has been a hotbed for producing rising young classical musicians, thanks to El Sistema, their musical education system. Gustavo Dudamel, the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, is the most famous superstar to rise from that program.

As a pianist, Vanessa Perez says she wasn't part of an El Sistema orchestra; however, she says, the enthusiasm for creating classical music in that environment is quite infectious. "It's contagious to be there," she explains, "to make music, to go to concerts and see them packed with young people. I just wish this would even spread more and more, this love for music!" Vanessa Perez is spreading her love of music by releasing a new collection of Chopin Preludes which also includes four additional solo piano works.

Vanessa Perez is an American-born Venezuelan pianist who has loved making music since she was a little girl. Her Venezuelan father and Peruvian mother met in Miami, which is where Vanessa was born. When she was three months old her family moved back to Venezuela where she lived until she was sent abroad to study piano at age 11. Vanessa's mother was a piano teacher, and at one time a concert pianist. Yet Vanessa says it wasn't easy convincing her mother to allow her to play piano, "She thought it was a very tough career, and she had a lot of stage fright and demands. She didn't want me to try it because of her own experience. But then she saw how adamant I was and persistent and how much I loved it. I was playing behind her back. My grandmother would teach me a little bit in secret, until my mother finally said, OK!"

"She was my first inspiration," Vanessa says of her mother. "I would listen to her play Beethoven and Chopin all the time at home." Vanessa's approach to Chopin is somewhat similar to her mother's, yet she's also found her own voice in this music, "I love her singing, the way she sang the lines, all the melodies. I remember her tone,and since she was one of my first teachers, I think probably, she transmitted it to me."

Chopin's 24 Preludes for piano make use of all the major and minor keys. They were inspired by Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. What Vanessa loves about these works is that they're so human, so vulnerable. Every emotion imaginable is found within these 24 pieces. Even in the very short preludes like No. 7 the whole world seems to be captured in that little waltz.

The G Major Prelude No. 3 is buzzing with enthusiastic energy. It's paired with the brooding E minor Prelude No. 4 which is much darker, and more chromatic.

One of the most famous Preludes is No. 15 in D flat Major, called, "Raindrop." It earned its nickname because of the one note that keeps repeating. It's thought Chopin may have composed this work while on vacation in Majorca. He was seeking a warm, dry climate, but experienced endless days of rain.

After losing yourself in the 24 preludes, there are four more Chopin piano master pieces to enjoy on this recording, including the hypnotic Barcarolle, Op. 60. As the left hand plays the undulating gondola theme, the right hand introduces the melody, not as a single voice, but as harmonized thirds, as if two people are singing together.

Vanessa Perez says her approach to Chopin may not be stereotypical. It may not be what some would call beautiful. What she wants is an honest, organic sound that feels real. Vanessa says finding her own voice on her instrument is all part of the musical journey. "To be a musician," she explains, you go through hardships — you know, doubts — but nothing fulfills me as much as making music."

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