Discusses the Composers he Interprets in his Concert

Exclusive Interview by: Iride Aparicio


Photos courtesy: the Artist

SILICON VALLEY --During the 25th anniversary season of STEINWAY SOCIETY - The Bay Area's concerts,   Cultural World Bilingual  had the opportunity to interview world famous Concert Pianist ALBERT  CANO  SMIT, a "Musical genius," when he came to SARATOGA, CALIFORNIA to give a concert in the theatre of West Valley College on December 8, 2019.

CANO SMIT's  rise to fame began when  he won his first International Musical Competition  (for pianists),  when he was 14 years old.  He continued  ascending to fame, when  winning  the  first prize (in 2007)  in the NAUMBURG  Competition  (An international Competition for pianists between 17 to 32 years old organized by the WALTER W. NAUMBURG foundation in New York City) and gained world fame after that. CANO SMIT  also won  the Chopin Prize from the  ROYAL CONSERVATORY OF MUSIC in London (considered  one of the most respected musical institutions in the world).  Early last year his recital for the LOUIS VUITTON  Foundation in Paris,  was transmitted live all over the world.  Last December, the pianist was  selected as one of the Gold Medal winners of the 2019 Young Concert Artists International Audition in New York City.

 We start our  interview asking ALBERT CANO SMIT how does it feel to be famous at the young age of  23?

A.C.S.:  "I don't consider myself  famous" he says smiling, "But I am aware that, because all the awards I had won,  my name is now recognized in the musical world. The world of classical music is limited as far as fame is concerned; the kind of fame in the musical world is very different from the fame of a football player.  In my world, to be famous is a responsibility . Musically speaking, to play classical music at the piano,  requires a lot of technique. What this means, is that the way I played a work today, is good for today, but  it won't meet tomorrow's standards.  Tomorrow will require that I play better than I played today because, as a pianist,  you need to be  constantly 'in shape. ' It is stressful, but it is the type of stress which forces one to try to become better every day.  I also believe that to make sense, 'fame' is something that needs to be used by the artist in a positive way. In my case, I am sure that every time I perform,  I will be  giving my audience 'something unique.'  I often wish that classical music were more accessible to the public so the people could listen to it all the time and come the understand it, because it has the ability to speak to the whole world. But since your question was how do I feel being famous, my answer would be that I feel privileged."   

ALBERT CANO SMIT  was born in Switzerland, but did his first musical studies in Ville du Cavaille in Catalonia, in the northeast of Spain, where his parents had moved. The artist speaks several languages. Among them German, English, Catalàn and Spanish.

C.W.B:  What prompted you to study piano?

A.C.S.: : " My family is not musical, but my mother, who is a Psychologist, had the idea that her children (He has a sister two years older than he) should experience the greatest number of different activities and learn to play a musical instrument to help develop their intellect and sensitivity. So, when my sister turned seven, my mother brought her a keyboard. I remember that I fell in love with the music and that the music made me very happy, so, when my sister became aware of it, she started teaching me to play it. At the age of six, when there was an opening in PABLO (A  music school named after PABLO CALAS the famous Hispanic conductor and cellist) I  began taking  music lessons.

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C.W.B: What can you tell our readers about the STEINWAY SOCIETY- The Bay Area's  concert that you will be playing for us in SARATOGA?

A.C.S.: "One of  the things I can tell you is that it will be a program with a varied musical language, because BACH, SCHUMANN, MESSIAEN, CHOPIN and PROKOFIEV  require very different interpretations on the part of the pianist."

C.W.B: I believe that the program is going to be difficult for you,  because you will be interpreting, in a single concert, not only five composers with different styles, but  belonging  to different eras in the evolution of music:  BACH represents the years l685-l750, CHOPIN 1810-1849, SCHUMANN l810-l856, MESSIAEN 1908-1992 and PROKOFIEV 1891-1953.  Do you have a favorite  among them?

A.C.S.: "My answer will be no, and the reason is that every time, before walking on the stage, I make the composer that I am going to interpret at that moment, my favorite.

C.W.B.; Could you tell us something about the composers that you are going to interpret in your concert beginning with BACH?.

A.C.S.: "I can tell you that for me, BACH had always been "número uno" (number one) and the reason is that, when I was a boy, we sang BACH all the time in school. I have  often asked myself  if the reason why I like BACH as much as I do, was that I listened to so much of his music when I was growing up that it became part of my system. But what fascinates me about all these great composers is that each one of them is an entity completely different from the others, with his own sensitivities and able to carry the interpreter to different states of mind to the point that when you are playing their music, you can sense them standing next to you.  That is the reason why, for me, interpreting their music, is creating a human connection between the compositor and myself."

C.W.B.:  Do you feel connected to BACH?

A.C.S.:  "My relationship with BACH has been changing. Also, when we talk about BACH we must realize that his music was written for clavichord, not for piano, so the sound is slightly different. But when I interpret BACH's music, the important thing to me, is the clarity of the voices. If the audience could listen to the sound of every note, clearly, the pianist had interpreted BACH as it should be interpreted.  Another thing that the performer of BACH needs to understand is that every one of his Fugues,   oratorios, of his cantatas, is a different world and that to interpret them correctly, the performer needs to decide on the articulations of the music and mentally hear the sound of the groups of notes, before playing them. It also helps to read, ahead of time, the text of the work. The good news is that after 'working' ( rehearsing) a musical piece over and over again, you are able to understand the work. When it happens, you can perform it giving it the correct interpretation."

C.W.B.: Let's talk now about SCHUMANN (1810-1856) what can you tell us something about the interpretation of  SCHUMANN's music?

A.C.S: "What I can say about SCHUMANN is that when I was in Paris, I had the opportunity to actually see his music live; it seem to come from another world and changed my perception of him as a composer. To me  SCHUMANN is unique , and that is that he expresses poetry in every measure. . Every one of his notes has 'something' inexplicable, that moves the performer in a way you cannot explain because his melodies are almost celestial. His music is very honest, very natural, typical of a tortured 'Romantic Genius'. But at the same time , his music has a strong and very German motivic structure. When you hear the "motif" (As the melody of a few notes that identifies the work is called), sometimes, three movements further on , 'something' will appear that will be connected with those three notes of the previous movement. That is what makes the music of SCHUMANN so difficult to play. The music of SCHUMANN  is deep, and what makes it so hard for the performer to interpret it ('interpret' used to conceptualize the "feeling" the composer intended to be given to his music when performed.) are the changes that are not only drastic but can also occur so quickly."

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C.W.B: Switching to a different century, what can you tell us, as a performer, about your selections from Vingt regaards sur l'enfant Jésus by the French composer OLIVIER MESSIAEN (1908-1992)? I understand that it is a suite of 20 short solo-piano pieces based on different contemplations about the baby Jesus, written in 1944 by YVONNE LOROD. 

A.C.S.: "As a composer, MESSIAEN is not well known, but those who are familiar with him know that he is famous for being so obsessed with birds that he went out into nature with a notebook and transcribed the songs of the birds later introducing the melodies, that he'd notated, in his works. That is why MESSIAEN's sonorities are unique. Another interesting aspect of the composer is that because he was a devout Catholic, much of his music was inspired by religion, which makes it interesting to understand the structure of his music. One example would be Vingt regards. Because every melody in the work is based on the Baby Jesus, every note must be interpreted (given it the feeling) of an offering to Jesus. The texts in many of MESSIAEN's  compositions is not religious, but his music is often played in churches because it has a religious sound and because he wrote many of his compositions for the organ. Another characteristic of his music that makes MESSIAEN different from other composers is that it is melodic. (written horizontally as a melody, not vertically as a series of chords.) For the listeners of MESSIAEN's music, it will be interesting if they just let themselves be carried away by its sounds, aware that the composer is using these sounds to show us the connection between Nature and God."

C.W.B.: Continuing in the order of your program, what can you tell us about CHOPIN's music?

A.C.S.:" I feel that as a composer, CHOPIN puts his soul into his pianistic technique.  There is a story that SCHUMANN was such a great admirer of CHOPIN that he wrote a piece for him and gave it to him as a gift hoping that he would play it, but when CHOPIN saw the piece, he considered it a musical disaster and refused to play it."

"But to return to your question, as an interpreter, I believe that the way in which CHOPIN uses the piano is unique. We could even call it a 'new dimension.' In  his Nocturnes, which are quintessentially Chopinesque, he often chose minor keys, whose sound is peaceful, evocative of the calmness of the night. If we examined them, they are poetic, but at the same time those nocturnes are powerful enough to convey his desired feelings to the listeners. What it is interesting for me, as a pianist,  is that when one is 'working,'  (practicing, rehearing) through  the music of  these Romantic composers who ever lived, after a while, their spirit  enters into you, and in my opinion, enrich your soul."

C.W.B.: To end our interview, what can you tell our readers about the music of  PROKOFIEV?

A.C.S.: " As a concert performer, for a while I was not found of  PROKOFIEV's music until I started to appreciate its quality. His Sonatas 6, 7, and 8, for example have a musical language that is both interesting and different, such that I now consider him to be one of the greatest composers.  In his pieces, PROKOFIEV uses his own musical language that at times isn't the most pleasant to listen to, but if he look at the written music, we realize that it is constructed intelligently. To understand PROKOFIEV's music, it helps to understand what it was like to be a composer in the Soviet Union at the time when the Communist system controlled and limited what artists could create. For a totalitarian regime, composition was certainly a talent, but because it could be influential, it could also influence citizens' thinking, giving rise in them to ideas that the communists considered dangerous. But  PROKOFIEV continued writing his music almost as a challenge. He also was able to write music that was i an acceptable enough form. One example is his First Symphony, which is based on the style of JOSEPH HAYDN"  (1732-1809)."

"One of the movements of his Seventh Sonata, which I will play during my recital, is a toccata with a rhythmic feeling that really captures one's attention. It depicts the feelings of someone who is broken-hearted but is singing as if he were happy, while inside he is shattered. It was this non tonal form of expressing himself that  caused Russians to understand PROKOFIEV' music. At that time, because of what was taking place, music served as an escape for the Russians who used music as an escape, and as the mean to express their emotions and feelings. So, for years PROKOFIEV used his melodies as a 'secret message' to those who understood them and, though forbidden to express them in their own words, could do it playing the  angry, clashing, dissonant sounds of PROKOVIEV's music." 

"And in my concert, PROKOFIEV will have a connection with BACH  because my program will begin in a B-flat Major, piano piece by BACH , and  end with a B-flat Major piano piece by PROKOFIEV. It will be like a circle, that starts and ends in the  musical key that composers use for  farewells--not for funerals (eternal farewells)--for short farewells where people will be seeing each other again."

This Exclusive  interview by IRIDE APARICIO with pianist  ALBERT CANO SMIT was conducted in Spanish at the artist's request. The original interview and its English translation may be read in her website:

On January l8, 2020, ALBERT CANO SMIT performed the great Concerto No 3 in B-flat Major by BRAHMS with the LAS VEGAS PHILHARMONIC conducted by Maestro DONATO CARRERA.