Virtuoso pianist Horacio Gutiérrez wants to get Romantic

click to enlarge Virtuoso pianist Horacio Gutiérrez wants to get Romantic
Horacio Gutiérrez

The Oklahoma City Philharmonic welcomes back world-renowned pianist Horacio Gutiérrez for a concert showcasing two Romantic era masterworks. The night will open with the majestic music of Johannes Brahms’ “Symphony No. 3” and will conclude with Gutiérrez and the orchestra performing Frédéric Chopin’s introspective and idyllic “Piano Concerto No. 1.”

Gutiérrez was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1948 and showed an affinity for music at a young age. While he admits that it may sound far-fetched, his parents told him that even at 6 months old, he was fascinated by his mother’s ability to play the piano.

“By the time I was 2, they saw that I would make approaches to the piano and try to play,” Gutierrez said. “So, my mother began teaching me.”

By the time he was 4,he had a piano teacher outside of the home. At 6, Gutiérrez gave a small public recital. At 11, he made his debut with the Havana Symphony. The next year, his family emigrated to the US, allowing Gutiérrez to attend the prestigious Juilliard music school in NewYork.

Whereas many musicians start with piano and migrate to other instruments later, Gutiérrez said no other instrument drew him in with the same power.

“In junior high, I did play the French horn with the marching band, and I was fairly terrible,” he said. “I knew then that I’d made the right choice.”

He made his professional debut in 1970 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and over the last 44 years, Gutiérrez has built a reputation as one of the finest pianists of his generation, performing with symphonies around the world, including many appearances with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic.

“The OKC Philharmonic, because of the quality of the musicians and their music director, Joel Levine, is a place that I always look forward to playing,” said Gutiérrez.

The other thing that keeps bringing Gutiérrez back is the OKC Phil’s Hamburg Steinway piano.

“Every piano has its own personality, and when it’s a fine instrument, it can inspire you to play better and try new things,” he said. “The OKC Phil happens to have a very beautiful piano. They also have an excellent technician named Peter Krauss, which makes all the difference.”

Gutiérrez described Chopin’s “Piano Concerto No. 1” as a composition that stirs every feeling in his soul.

“The aim of the piece is one of poetry and moving the hearts of the listeners,” Gutiérrez said. “It’s not a display piece.”

He said that even though it’s an early work — composed by Chopin when he was 20 or 21—it is one of the most difficult pieces to perform thanks to many subtle complexities playing out just beneath the surface.

“Chopin’s true greatness lay in the fact that he made the piano sing,” said Gutiérrez. “He was the first and the most successful at truly imitating the human voice at the keyboard.”

After a long but successful battle with cancer and the ever-increasing hassle of air travel, Gutiérrez has become more selective in his performance options in recent years. Thankfully, the OKC Phil remains on his short list of prized collaborators.

“I’m like the Sondheim song ‘I’m Still Here,’” Gutiérrez said. “But I am happy to be alive and still doing what I love.”