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Maria Teresa Rodriguez (1923-2013): Champion of Carlos Chavez


Speak of the Mexican pianist Maria Teresa Rodriguezand the topic quickly turns to her recordings of the solo piano music of Carlos Chavez. However, many will advise a more thorough exploration of her work, for she was said to have had a repertoire which included more than 400 pieces, including Maurice Ravel's "Le Tombeau de Couperin."

Maria Teresa Rodriguez also championed the music of many other contemporary composers from around the world, including Sergei Prokofiev and, of course, her Mexican compatriots Carlos Chavez and Manuel Ponce.

Maria Teresa Rodriguez passed away last week at the age of 90. I spoke about her life and work with one of Mexico's most acclaimed pianists, Jorge FedericoOsorio.

J.B. Maestro Osorio, when did you first encounter Maria Teresa Rodriguez?

JFO: I knew her. She was a close friend of my mother. I grew up hearing her name, since I was a kid. Matesa, they used to call her. It was always a joy to be with her, with such good humor. And a very elegant lady. She was also on the jury when I won my first piano competition in Mexico City.

J.B. Do you remember when you first heard her play?

J.F.O. I must have been about 14 or 15.

J.B. And do you remember what was on that program?

J.F.O. It was the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 22, actually, conducted by Eduardo Mata. And of course, Maria Teresa and Eduardo Mata were very close friends.

J.B. That is such a good memory. It must have been a very memorable performance.

J.F.O. Yeah. I remember the finale to that concerto very vividly, actually.

J.B. I've seen her described, as you alluded to, as a small, elegant woman, but bigger than life when she sits at the piano. How would you describe her?

J.F.O. Well, it's in similar ways. She reminded me of Alicia De Larrocha, because of this small figure coming to the piano and really having such a control and such dignified playing and beautiful pianism.

J.B. I was wondering about that myself, whether there were similarities between De Larrocha and Rodriguez.

J.F.O. Somehow, yes, I think the comparison is very accurate. And I say also of Maria Teresa, she had such a huge repertoire..... It came, I mean, when I heard she had passed away as quite a shock.

J.B. I read that her repertoire was more than 400 pieces, and that she played most, if not all, by memory. Is that true?

J.F.O. Yes, yes, that's what I heard. I remember as a kid being very impressed when they told me that she played the whole Well-Tempered Klavier by Bach, plus so many other things. I also remember recently I heard a live recording of her playing the Chavez Piano Concerto, with Chavez conducting, at the Cabrillo Music Festival in California, which was really fantastic.

J.B. She had a reputation for playing the music of Chavez. She was also said to be a very good sight reader, as you mentioned, and I read that was one of the things which impressed Carlos Chavez when he first heard her play.

J.F.O. Exactly, since Chavez had this studio for younger composers, and they would finish a piece and give it to Maria Teresa and she would just read it straightaway. What a luxury!

J.B. Chavez must have had a lot of trust in her to approach her and ask if she would record all of his solo piano music. That's quite an extraordinary gesture of trust, isn't it?

J.F.O. Yeah. Trust and utmost respect and certainly because Chavez wasn't an easy person and was really quite a demanding musician. So.....I think he found in Maria Teresa the perfect interpreter for his music.

J.B. Now you mention that she had such a broad repertoire and that to consider her just for her performances and interpretations of the music of Chavez is to ignore much of her significance. Again, give us some idea of the full breadth of her repertory.

J.F.O. As I said, she played all the Beethoven Concerti, both the Brahms Concerti, as far as I know all or most of the Beethoven Sonatas. Also, the music of Chopin. She gave recitals devoted solely to the music of Chopin, or other composers. She was known for commanding a huge repertoire.

J.B. And she certainly did great service to some of the other contemporary composers, composers of her time in Mexico, playing not just Chavez but the music of others.

J.F.O. Exactly. As I said there were all these other young composers who studied at the time of the “Taller de Composición,” as it was called at the Conservatoire. To have someone like Maria Teresa to come in and work with you and play your compositions must have been fantastic, a fantastic experience.

J.B. Now, I know you play the music of Chavez, and I want to ask you a little more about your recent recording of the Piano Concerto, but I'm wondering if at any time in the past you studied her recordings in order to inform your interpretations?

J.F.O. I had heard her recording of the Chavez Piano Concerto many years ago, when she made the recording with Eduardo Mata. But then it was this recording with Chavez himself conducting at the Cabrillo Festival that really, really, I thoroughly enjoyed and I thought she played it so magnificently. And what a command of the work, my goodness. It's not such an easy piece.

J.B. Jorge Federico Osorio, I'll leave the final word for you as we remember Maria Teresa Rodriguez. How do you think she should, and will, be remembered?

J.F.O. Well, or course, as a fantastic pianist. But also the fact that she did so much to keep the new music alive. As I said, that period with Chavez and all the younger composers, and the fact that people could hear these new works almost immediately. It's so important.

J.B. Maestro Osorio, thank you so much for your memories of Maestra Rodriguez and thanks for giving so generously of your time. It's been a privilege talking to you.

J.F.O. And same to you, James. Bye, bye.

Maria Teresa Rodriguez, who passed away on September 4th, was 90 years old. She famously remarked that “The piano has been not only my colleague and friend, it has been my life.” Mexico continues today in mourning for this great artist who offered so much to so many. Descanse en paz, Maria Teresa.

James first introduced himself to KPAC listeners at midnight on April 8, 1993, presenting Dvorak's 7th Symphony played by the Cleveland Orchestra. Soon after, he became the regular overnight announcer on KPAC.