MSO concert featuring pianist Vanessa Perez to be 'electrifying,' 'rock on the piano'
Pianist Vanessa Perez has performed in Europe, throughout Central America, and across the United States from New York City to Miami and San Diego.
But her upcoming performance in Hagerstown at The Maryland Theatre presents her with a new and exciting challenge.
Perez will perform Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” for the first time in her illustrious career at the Maryland Symphony Orchestra’s Symphony, Rhapsody and Variations concert Saturday, March 16, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 17 at 3 p.m. The concert also will feature Johannes Brahms’ “Variations on a Theme of Josef Haydn” and Sergei Prokofiev’s “Symphony No. 5.”
Perez, who spoke with a Herald-Mail reporter from her New York studio, said she has performed other Rachmaninoff works, including his first, second and third piano concertos. When she agreed to play a Rachmaninoff piece with the MSO, Perez received a note from her manager stating that MSO conductor and music director Elizabeth Schulze would prefer “Paganini.”
“She very specifically wanted this piece. At first I thought, ‘I could play one of the others,’” Perez said. “Then I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ This will give me a perfect reason to finally say I have it under my belt. And I’m glad the premiere is with her.”
Perez, a dual citizen of the United States and Venezuela, worked with Schulze during Schulze’s tenure as artistic director and conductor of the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra in Arizona.
“She is fantastic,” Perez said. “She has a beautiful, really contagious energy.”
Perez said the lineup of songs for the MSO concert is “gorgeous.”
“I love this program. These are like rock concerts on the piano,” she said. “I think people are going to be very happy to be there,” she said.
Perez has been playing the works of Rachmaninoff since she was a teenager and she feels a strong connection to his music.
“He writes for the piano incredibly, even though it is very challenging. There are a lot of rules, but there is a lot of freedom I feel like I can take inside of those rules,” she said. “There is such a grandiosity, such a romanticism to his music.”
The concertos of Rachmaninoff are “electrifying,” Perez said, but the rhapsody in particular is “rock on the piano.”
“It’s explosive and what he does with it is incredible,” she said. “The conversation between the piano and the orchestra is so tight. It’s really like a tennis match bounding back and forth.”
Perez was raised to her pre-teen years in Venezuela. Her mother, a pianist who suffered from stage fright, was initially reluctant to support her daughter’s interest in music, so Perez would sneak off with her maternal grandmother, who also played, to learn what she could. Her mother finally permitted her to begin lessons around age 7. A natural talent, Perez played her concert debut in Caracas, Venezuela when she was 11 for a sold-out 2,500-seat auditorium.
She went on to study in the United States, and at 17, won a full scholarship to study at London’s Royal Academy of Music. She also studied in Italy, and completed post-graduate studies at Yale University.
For the past several years, Perez has been collaborating with American actor Bill Murray of the films “Groundhog Day” and “Ghostbusters” on a project called “New Worlds.” The program, which explores American values in literature and music including the works of Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein, was an unusual and unexpected turn in her life.
“I love the diversity that I’ve had in the past few years. Working with Bill has been one of the most incredible experiences of my life,” Perez said. “He is a natural musician. Because of him, I have learned to listen to music in a different way and I feel I am a better musician.”
A wife and mother, Perez also gives duo concerts with her husband, pianist-arranger Stephen Buck.
She has been working on “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” in preparation for the MSO concert for about a year.
“It’s a very challenging piece for any pianist, but again, I play this type of repertoire and I feel ready for the challenge,” she said. “It’s going to be a blast. Elizabeth (Schulze) is wonderful. It’s going to be an amazing celebration. People are going to love it.”
Top photo: Pianist Vanessa Perez, who has performed worldwide, will be the featured guest at Maryland Symphony Orchestra’s Symphony, Rhapsody, and Variations concert. (Submitted photo)