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Cubans at the piano

No one doubts that the Cuban piano school exists and is in good health. But in our magazine we feel that the great Cubans of the keys are not known enough by the non-specialized public.

This list presents some of those women who, from the last century to the present day, have captured their spiritual universe on the keys of a piano. You will find well-known names and others not so much, of artists who, from various roles —composers, concert performers, researchers, arrangers, teachers, accompanying pianists, repertorists— dedicated their lives to the instrument; some even reaching large stages and important orchestras in the world.

They probably miss names that should have appeared in this selection, including that of Enriqueta Almanza, to whom we dedicate an extensive article in our magazine, which is why we prefer not to include it now. As is often said: “there are not all that are”, but we have no doubt that “they are all that are”.

Cecilia Arizti

Her father, the pianist Fernando Arizti —a contemporary of Manuel Saumell— taught her to play classical scores from a very young age. At the age of eight he composed an Ave Maria and a mazurka; then, little by little, he became familiar with all the styles and forms of universal European music of his time. After completing his studies, he performed as a concert pianist in Cuba and the United States. She became a piano teacher at the Peyrellade Conservatory, and published the manual Twenty daily exercises for piano. In 1893, at the age of 37, he premiered his Chamber trio for piano, violin and cello, one of her best-known works and the first of its kind written by a Cuban woman. 

Maria de las Mercedes Adam de Arostegui

He moved to Spain with his family at the age of nine. He studied piano and composition at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Madrid and continued his studies in Paris with Louis Diémer, Jules Massenet and Vincent d'Indy. After completing her education, she worked as a composer and concert pianist, performing concerts with Pau Casals. She was the first Cuban woman to compose an opera: The life is dream, based on the homonymous work by Calderón de la Barca and which was premiered by the Havana Symphony Orchestra. Among his works for orchestra stand out The childhood, Cuban dances, Andalusian serenade, and the Ballade Guerrière Écossaise, with text by British writer Walter Scott. He also composed songs. 

Ernestina Lecuona Married

At the age of 15, living in Guanabacoa, he composed his first piece, Louise, which gave him wide recognition in Cuba and Spain. She studied music, married a musician, and had descendants of musicians — her grandson is the great composer Leo Brouwer. His professional work had a parenthesis in which he devoted himself to raising children. Specialists highlight the wide spectrum of his compositions, which cover musical genres such as fantasias-creoles, songs, boleros, lullabies, sones, criollas-boleros, guajiras, waltzes, danzones, hymns, and boleros. Her pedagogical work gave her the necessary eye to detect talent; Of the many names that owe her career to her, perhaps the most important is that of Esther Borja, whom she “discovered” when she was very young.

María Cervantes

Daughter of Ignacio Cervantes, considered by many to be the most outstanding Cuban musician of the 19th century, from a very young age she was inclined towards art. He began piano studies with his father and at the age of 13 he made his debut as a pianist at the Tacón theater (today the Gran Teatro de La Habana “Alicia Alonso”), although his professional debut took place at the Campoamor in 1929. That year he moved to Nueva York and was signed by Columbia Records. In Cuba, he gave classes to the very young Bola de Nieve, who acknowledged having taken the rhythmic elements and the very particular way of accompanying himself on the piano from the records of whom he mentioned as "his greatest and true influence". About her, the Cuban musicographer Rosa Marquetti said: “She could not have been docile or submissive, as befitted the time (…). Added to his qualities as a performer, the temperament predicted by those early compositions and performances seemed (...) indomitable”. 

Margot Rojas 

Mexican by birth, she began studying piano at the National Conservatory upon her arrival in Cuba in 1912, under the tutelage of Hubert de Blanck. He later traveled to New York to continue his piano studies with Alexander Lambert. She was a distinguished professor who worked in various educational institutions, including the Amadeo Roldán Conservatory and the National School of Arts (ENA). She offered concerts as a soloist and accompanied by instrumental groups such as the National Symphony Orchestra.

Margot de Blanck

Daughter of Hubert de Blanck and his second wife, Pilar Martín. He studied at the National Conservatory of Music, founded by his father, and began his musical career at the age of 15. He played several times at Carnegie Hall in New York and in other American cities. He performed extensively in Europe, Latin America and Cuba. He taught piano and lived outside of Cuba for many years. Ernesto Lecuona dedicated The troupe, one of his most famous works.

Aida Right-handed

She worked as director of the church choir where her father officiated, which allowed her to acquire extensive knowledge of harmonics that she would later apply to staging voices. His beginnings as an artist were at the Mil Diez radio station, where he acted as a repertoire pianist; There he met César Portillo de la Luz, José Antonio Méndez, Tania Castellanos, Luis Yáñez and Adolfo Guzmán. She was the founder in 1952 and director until her death of the D'Aida Quartet, made up of Elena Burke, Omara and Haydée Portuondo, and Moraima Secada, a group that at the beginning of the 1960s established itself among the essentials of the Cuban song movement known as filin.

Numidia Vaillant Villalon

He studied piano with maestro Joaquín Nin in Santiago de Cuba. It was released on the CMKC radio station in 1946. In 1956 the magazine Show he highlighted her in the rare category of “eccentric pianists” together with “a certain” Ignacio Villa. Despite his enormous talent, luck eluded him, although many important artists of the time attested to his pianistic quality; Thus, looking for better courses, he traveled halfway around the world until settling in Paris in 1958, where he played in Saint-Germain jazz clubs such as Blue Note and Be-Bop, among others. According to Rosa Marquetti, in that city she came to collaborate “with Alejo Carpentier on some musical projects when the great writer was also the Cuban cultural adviser in France. Her name is not mentioned when talking about pianists in Cuba, despite the fact that her life (...) makes her remarkable and linked to significant moments in Cuban musical history”. 

Zenaida Manfugas

At the age of 17, he made his debut at the Amphitheater on Avenida del Puerto, with the Municipal Band then directed by maestro Gonzalo Roig in the play Concerto in A Minor by Edward Grieg. In 1952, he won a scholarship to study at the Real Conservatorio de Madrid with Tomás Andrade de Silva and then continued in Paris with Walter Gieseking. In 1960 she was appointed head of the Piano Chair at the Alejandro García Caturla Conservatory in the Cuban capital. A decade later he returned to Madrid with unbeatable professional credentials and great anticipation for his return to the Iberian stages. Concerts would follow him in several cities in the United States, where he took Latin American pieces and pieces from the Spanish repertoire. In 2002 he returned to Spain and taught at the Reina Sofía Conservatory. In 2005 she performed at Carnegie Hall in New York, while almost until her death she maintained her activity as Professor of History of Music at Kean College in New Jersey.

Yvette Hernandez

Born in Guantánamo, from a very young age her parents took her to the Cuban capital to ensure the continuity of her studies, where she was discovered by Erich Kleiber, who directed her —when she was barely 12 years old— a concert as a soloist with the Philharmonic Orchestra of La Havana, interpreting Capriccio Brilliant, by Mendelssohn. The Viennese master became his mentor and someone decisive in the further course of his career. In 1949 he moved to Paris to study at the National Conservatory of Music with Marcel Ciampi and won the First Prize for piano there. In London she won the Harriet Cohen medal, awarded to the three most outstanding pianists of the year; while in New Orleans he won the First Prize in the Luis Moreaux Gottschalk International Competition. With all these recognitions, he toured America and Europe, and recorded several works. Upon his return to Cuba, he offered recitals throughout the country, and concerts with the National Philharmonic Orchestra. In the 1960s he settled in Spain. Later, he resided in Manhattan, until his death. José Cáceres Danielsen, a Puerto Rican music critic, has said: “In my humble opinion, Ivette Hernández is the best female pianist that Cuba has produced and occupies a brilliant place in the constellation of world piano stars.”

Teresita Junco Reyna

He inherited an art that he managed to develop and transmit, not only to his sons (Ilmar and Aldo López-Gavilán Junco), but also to each of his disciples, since he established a methodology that is part of the foundations of the Cuban School of Piano. Graduated in Piano and Choral Direction from the Amadeo Roldán Conservatory in Havana in 1968 and from the "Gnecin" Institute in Moscow in 1973, she had a great artistic and pedagogical career, both nationally and internationally. He taught courses on the interpretation of Cuban music and the international repertoire in Mexico, Venezuela, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Your book How easy it is to play the piano! It became an obligatory and reference text, not only for students, educators and parents, but also for higher level Piano and Aesthetics teachers.

Ileana Bautista

He studied at the kyiv Tchaikovsky Conservatory, in the Ukraine; He currently resides in Puerto Rico. Noted for her classical work, she has performed concerts with the Chamber Orchestra of Havana, the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba, and the San Juan Conservatory. produced the records Cuban music and Impressions, very well received by critics. In recent years, the music of the Gurdjieff / De Hartmann compositional duo has changed its way of relating to classical music, according to their own statements. She is a piano teacher at the National Institute of Fine Arts in Mexico. 

Elvira Santiago

He began his piano studies with Graciela Santiago, and later continued at the Amadeo Roldán Conservatory. She was a disciple of Margot Rojas, Zenaida Manfugás, Cecilio Tieles and Natalia Hornowska; and received theoretical subjects directly from Edgardo Martín, José Ardévol, Leo Brouwer, Roberto Valera and Federico Smith. He has been a pianist accompanying lyrical and popular singers of the Lyric Theater, and played with the Matanzas Symphony Orchestra and the National Symphony Orchestra, as well as being a member of various chamber ensembles. She has directed the Chamber Choir of Matanzas, a city where she has worked as a teacher in several music teaching centers. As a composer, she stands out in the creation of music for the Teatro Guiñol de Matanzas, incidental music, song cycles based on texts by José Martí and Nicolás Guillén, choral works with texts by Gerardo Diego and Federico García Lorca, and children's works for piano.

Ninowska Fernandez-Brito

He studied piano with teachers Harold Gramatges and Ivette Hernández. Later he studied a Master's degree at the PI Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow with teachers VK Merzhanov and Zinaida A. Ignatieva. She is the founder of the Superior Institute of Art of Havana where she obtained the category of Full Professor and worked as a teacher until 1992. Since that year she has settled in Mexico and works at the Faculty of Music of the Unam, in charge of the chairs of Piano and Chamber Music at the Undergraduate and Postgraduate levels. He has solo and chamber music recordings. His professional life also includes the performance of various directing and advisory positions in academic environments, both in Cuba and Mexico.

MAria Pacheco 

He began studying piano at a very young age at the Alejandro García Caturla Conservatory. At the age of 15, he entered the National School of Art and later studied composition for three years with Tulio Peramo at the Higher Institute of Art in Havana. In 2002 he won the Cuban JoJazz contest and two years later he recorded his first album Blessings (Hummingbird). Very young he moved to Germany and made a jazz tour of Europe, where he began to forge his international prestige. In 2012 she won the Montreux Solo Piano Competition, for the first time awarded to a woman. In August 2014, she made her international debut as a classical pianist showing her interpretive diversity, performing Bach with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra in Brisbane/Australia, conducted by Gustavo Gimeno. Since 2017 he defends his phonograms on stage Cuban danzon and duets, the latter with some of the most prominent artists in contemporary jazz, including Hamilton from Holland, Omar Sosa, Joo Kraus, Rhani Krija, Miguel Zenon and Max Mutzke. 

Daniela Rivero Cernuda

At just 22 years old, Daniela is the youngest promise of the Cuban piano. Student of professor Mayté Aboy González and currently of Ulises Hernández at the Higher Institute of Art Where do you study Bachelor of Music?, has already obtained several international awards for his enormous talent and thanks to his efforts and that of his tutors. Regarding his most recent award, the third place in the “José Jacinto Cuevas” Yamaha International Competition, in Mexico, the press said regarding his interpretation of Shostakovich's Concerto No. 2: “...it was a true torrent of technique and emotionality At the end (…) Daniela, the room explodes in an overwhelming ovation, standing up and with loud shouts of BRAVO! which goes on for a long time in a very fair way because the interpretation has been tremendous”. 

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  1. Raiko says:

    This is a very good article, it collects a good part of Cuban musical history, with a focus on women as protagonists, in an area where at least I knew little about it👌🏿👌🏿

  2. Ana Rosa Oliver Bravo says:

    Daniela Rivero has a lot of talent. I wish you more and more success. That pride!! CONGRATULATIONS!!!

  3. Berta says:

    The truth is that this article is very poor, with its title. Many pianists are missing, even young ones with a rich trajectory in the country and abroad. It is regrettable. Thank you

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