Word travels quickly about piano talents, and Beatrice Rana’s name quickly made its way around music circles from Toronto to Quebec City and the rest of Canada, much like in the rest of the world.
Thursday night at the Maison symphonique, the 25-year-old Italian was the featured soloist in Brahms’ Piano Concerto in D minor as Montreal played host to Ottawa’s National Arts Centre Orchestra and conductor Alexander Shelley. Her 40-minute rendition – a mammoth concerto in the classical repertoire – ran with an assertive streak throughout, at thunderous octaves as much as at bubbly unison passages: across the gamut of delicate playing to towering cadenzas, her musical ideas were unapologetic, unrestrained and authentic.
And how to capture that authentic spirit in the artist? Ludwig van Montreal uncovered that in our post-performance interview in Rana’s dressing room.
LvM: You won the Montreal International Music Competition in 2011. How does it feel when you return to Montreal?
BR: Montreal is such a special place for me. I arrived here with absolutely no expectations; also, no idea about how being a concert pianist really looks like. Then, in two weeks everything changed. Since then, I came back quite often to Montreal. Every time it’s such a special feeling – I feel the warmth from the audience, I feel that they know me, but I also feel that I know them, and I want to give the best for them.
LvM: What’s the adrenaline like when you go on stage?
BR: It’s very difficult to say – it depends also on the program I’m playing. For example, with this Brahms [Piano Concerto No. 1], it’s very new in my repertoire: I feel that a very strong concentration is needed – which doesn’t mean only intellectual concentration, but also emotional concentration. It needs a concentration that can go long-term – not just for the first bars, you know. If I’m playing the Prokofiev third piano concerto, or Chopin, it’s completely different.
LvM: You probably have an affinity for Brahms and for Schumann, much like your teacher Benedetto Lupo…
BR: *laughs* Well, I grew up with a lot of Schumann. It helped a lot, of course; but I have to say, not that much with Brahms. Because even though they are so close, it’s so different to play Brahms – like if I compare tonight’s concerto with the Schumann concerto, it’s so different. So, so, so, SO different. Really, the concept of sound and also the structure and architecture is very different.
LvM: You might know that Benedetto [Lupo] is very well-loved in Montreal and Quebec. How much of an influence has he had on you?
BR: Oh, so much! I’ve been studying with him forever! I got into his class when I was ten, and I finished last July. I was 24 – so it’s been 14 years. I also eventually went to Germany to study with Arie Vardi. I would say that he is of great importance in my life, but really Benedetto Lupo is the one that really taught me everything.
He’s very nice – and very tough. Very, very, very demanding, the more you study with him. He has an incredible memory: if you play something and you come back to play the same piece after one year, he says, “I remember the last time I already told you this!” He remembers, and I don’t! *laughs*
LvM: Getting behind the North American perspective, what would you say to people that think Italians are sunny and charming in music or in real life?
« I think that there is a reason why opera was born in Italy. That means that the sun is reflected in the bel canto – very open singing. The real plot of the opera is extremely dramatic – and we ARE very dramatic! So, I think the main idea from outside [countries] is correct.
On one hand we’re very lucky – I’m very lucky to be born in Italy because there is a great musical tradition. But at the same time, being Italian makes it very difficult to get the German way of music[-making] and also the German way of singing – lied is completely different from opera. That’s the main difference – and very important to get. » – Beatrice Rana
LvM: Do you have a post-performance ritual?
BR: No, not really – it depends; like, today I can’t do anything because we are driving back to Ottawa…
LvM: Ideally, what would you do?
BR: Ideally, I would go out with friends, because there is so much adrenaline and so much energy – I’m not going to sleep until very late tonight! Sometimes it’s even difficult to talk after a performance, but gradually to talk with people makes things much easier, because if you’re alone you think about the performance – “Ah this was good, this was not good” – at least for myself, I focus very much on what happens. I get stuck in the music. But if I have friends, people that I love, if they’re there at the concert, I prefer to go out, chat and, you know, sleep on the concert and then think about it tomorrow.
LvM: What would it take to convince you to move away from Italy?
BR: I should find a place with… a kitchen who does the Italian [style]. That’s the main thing – because when I lived in Germany, I missed so much the food. And I’m not a foodie person, but [in Italy] simply even the worst restaurant or the worst person can make such a good pasta, compared to the rest of the world.
Or at least a good espresso. I could even survive with that.
LvM: What would your backup plan be if you weren’t concertizing?
BR: Honestly I don’t know. I thought that I could be so many things – like travel agent, because I’m so good now to book my flights! I could be a hotel designer, because I know exactly what is needed in a hotel room. All these things – but I would never be actually interested in all of them. And I never seriously thought about anything else than playing the piano.