Instrumentalist - Piano
Pianist Licad to perform with Santa Rosa Symphony

By the time she was 3 years old, Cecile Licad was already spending all day at the piano, listening to her mother give lessons.

"Initially, I was underneath the piano," she recalled in a phone interview from her home on the Upper West Side of New York. "I always liked bothering her and stealing her purse and getting some coins."

By the age of 5, Licad already had learned to read music, picking it up while her mother gave her older brothers music theory lessons in the kitchen. Soon afterward, she started stealing her brothers' piano music so she could learn it herself. So it's no surprise that by age 7, the pianist already had made her solo debut with the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Philippines.

"It was always in my ears, the music," she said of her childhood in the Philippines. "It seems like I'm a magnet to the piano."

Next weekend, Licad will demonstrate her magnetic charm during three performances of Ravel's popular "Piano Concerto in G Major" with the Santa Rosa Symphony.

Rounding out the program will be two orchestral works about transcendent love: Wagner's "Nachtgesang" from his opera "Tristan and Isolde" and Olivier Messiaen's "Turangalila" symphony.

"These feelings are rarely felt these days," Ferrandis said of the program's theme. "It's love and religious feelings and mysticism."

The second movement of the Ravel piano concerto is the most difficult to play, Licad said, because it's very "mystical and smoky," with a melody that goes on and on.

You're supposed to feel like you're on opium," she said. "I can imagine the feel-ing ... It's like time doesn't exist."

The slow movement is launched by a meandering melody played by the soloist. It is Ravel at his most elegant and refined, exuding the simplicity of Mozart.

"Even if you play it really slow, it has to have the right groove," Licad noted. "It's one of the most difficult movements, but it's very fulfilling if you play it well."

The lively first and third movements, by contrast, are extremely motoric and rhythmic. Here, Ravel reveals his love of jazz rhythms and the music of Gershwin.

During her childhood, Licad, 47, said that music was always playing in the background, even when she was sleeping.

"My father had a tape recorder that played all night long," she recalled. "It went on and on, and there was Artur Schnabel and Rudolf Serkin playing Beethoven."

By the time she was 12, Licad was studying with Serkin at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, where she had been invited to audition. Despite the fact that the Philippines was under martial law at the time, she was allowed to go.

"It was a dream come true," she said. "The first lady of the Philippines (Imelda Marcos) was interested in showing off the young artists, so I was called to play for her, and they gave me permission to leave (the country)."

At Curtis, Licad was one of the youngest students, along with a precocious violinist named Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. The two became fast friends.

"I remember I didn't want to talk in the beginning," Licad said. "Nadja was the first person who started to talk to me. She offered me a potato chip."

Licad stayed at Curtis through high school, then was invited by Serkin to study at his Institute for Young Musicians in Vermont, where she stayed for five years.

"He wasn't a doting teacher," she recalled. "He always wanted me to find my own voice. ... He was inspiring to me."

After winning the Leventritt Gold Medal in 1981, Licad earned international recognition and launched her career in earnest, performing with major orchestras around the world. Her repertoire as a soloist spans the works of Mozart and Beethoven, Brahms and Rachmaninoff, Debussy and Ravel, Shostakovich and Prokofiev.

"I don't like to stick with just one type of music," she said. "I like to experience a lot of different composers."

As a student, Licad played chamber music each summer at the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont, which was founded by Serkin. She continues to perform chamber music in recital with other pianists, such as Peter Serkin, Rudolf Serkin's son, and Murray Perahia.

"I love Murray Perahia," she said. "He always offers something new. He's always searching, and never contented with automatic playing."

Although she used to play chamber music with her ex-husband, Brazilian cellist Antonio Menenes of the Beaux Arts Trio, she now performs regularly with German cellist Alban Gerhardt.

On any given day, Licad will practice for eight hours, being careful not to injure her hands or become too obsessed.

"People say I'm a natural player, so I try to be relaxed," she said. "If I feel like something is unnatural, then I stop and change my fingerings."

Licad allows herself to get nervous about a month before a performance, so that by the time the concert rolls around, she is happy with her preparation and can relax.

"I'd rather enjoy what I'm doing," she said. "Otherwise, the audience is not going to enjoy it."

Diane Peterson, Santa Rosa Press Democrat
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