Interview with Cuban Pianist Liana Fernandez

Intermezzo al Sur: Her New Album

Helson Hernández

Liana Fernández
Liana Fernández

HAVANA TIMES — Renowned Cuban pianist Liana Fernandez – part of a family of great musicians – presented her first album at the 2015 Cubadisco event, under the category of concert soloist. She talks with Havana Times about her career.

HT: Summarize your album Intermezzo al Sur for us.

Liana Fernández: It’s a compendium of pieces that encompass three centuries of Cuban music, a kind of trip, hence the title. In addition to being a classical term, an intermezzo is a kind of bridge between two great pieces. In this album, I travel from Cuba to South America, collecting the most representative pieces from these countries and ours, in a journey spanning three hundred years. There are musicians who continue to compose music who are also included in our piano catalogue.

HT: What is your view on the work of Ignacio Cervantes?

LF: He is generally considered one of the fathers of 19th century Cuban music, and recognized for his artistic legacy, which is part of our identity. Music students and pianists often include his pieces in their programs, but do not manage to get its many musical nuances out of it, or the lyricism of these pieces. That is why I decided to work with Cervantes, why I approached his work in this album, in depth, so that it would be more than an accompaniment for our dance numbers, so that it would have the complexity inherent to it.

HT: Any peculiar aspect of your music training you could share with us?

LF: I graduated in 2007 from Cuba’s Higher Institute for the Arts (ISA). Now, I have students who are as old as 20. My generation was privileged, we had Russian teachers who specialized in chamber music and piano, and others who are no longer in Cuba.

HT: Tell us about an important episode in your career.

LF: My first performance with a symphonic orchestra. There, you perform with many other musicians as a soloist and have to communicate and trust others. It is an interesting form of complicity. I recall it was an important anniversary of the Matanzas Symphonic Orchestra, held at the White concert hall in the city, and that they had announced my father, Frank Fernandez, would play. The hall was packed and he had a commitment that ultimately kept him from performing, which is why I had to take the stage. When I saw the hall full of expectant people, I felt thrilled and the weight of responsibility, you feel that you owe something to that audience that is waiting to hear a renowned musician play. I also felt like a rookie. It was my first orchestra concert. I was conducted by maestro Enrique Perez Mesa, we performed Concert No. 2 by Camille Saint-Saens.

Liana 3HT: Tell us about your philosophy as a pianist.

LF: As you acquire experience, you begin to move down more professional roads. Anyone who thinks they’re already maestros are lost, because you can always learn more. One of the most interesting experiences you can have is to show your students the same pieces you perform and see how to assess these, how to offer solutions for certain passages, guide them towards a professional performance. All the while, you are drawing from this whole search and teaching process, where you again hear those pieces. This is a long profession where you can never close your eyes. This is isn’t the case with dancers, who have to retire when they’re no longer physically fit to perform. We pianists are in our profession for life, for as long as we have the strength, for as long as we are still breathing.

HT: What are some sensitive issues affecting the teaching of piano in Cuba today?

LF: The fact teachers are leaving the country is a problem these days, for each teacher has a personal methodology. You start out with a teacher and they tell you that the second finger is the most important for a given technique, then you get a new teacher and you have to change that, or study without a pedal. Everyone has their own style, so finding oneself and having to go through a change in teachers, naturally affects your musical vision. This is happening a lot. Let’s hope teachers will be able to accompany students for longer, so they can reach more profound conclusions with respect to the music.

HT: What style predominates in your artistic work?

LF: From an emotional point of view, I work well with any composer. I believe one must learn of one’s roots, convey and always try to preserve them. We should explore what’s ours more deeply, work from our essence. That’s why I chose this selection for my first album. I also of course love Chopin, Scriabin, Rachmaninov, that is, it needn’t be part of my tradition for me to like it. Rhythmically, I believe many classical pianists don’t pay enough attention to these elements, these counter-tempos, this melodic richness of our music. I believe this is very important and it’s the path I’ve followed.

HT: Tell us about Frank Fernandez, the pianist and father.

LF: Though I’ve had many teachers and am grateful for what they’ve taught me, as one owes one’s identity to such teachings, my father has always been present and close to me, though he’s never been my teacher officially. He always listened to me practicing and constantly corrected me. Being his daughter has been a huge challenge for me, not only in terms of my training but also professionally, as he has already developed a seal and is recognized in the country, and many people go to the concert hall to see what Frank Fernandez’ daughter is doing. One wants to make a name for oneself, no matter how small. I always wanted to be myself, to achieve things on my own, and it’s very hard being the daughter of one of most renowned Cuban pianists around the world.

HT: Have you also inherited the gift of composition?

LF: I admire and respect creative work immensely, but I haven’t had time for anything other than piano. I take all my efforts very seriously and would be incapable of doing something I don’t believe I’d do well.

HT: Has Intermezzo al Sur been presented at concert halls?

LF: I still haven’t performed all its pieces in a single concert, I’ve only performed some pieces here and there. The album is the result of the musical experience I’ve accumulated, which explains the pieces I chose.