An evening with Jorge Luis Prats

Jorge Luis Prats
 

Jorge Luis

By J.W. Kaldenbach


 

Jorge Luis Prats’ entire life sits inside a piano. From one end to the other end of the keyboard, this Cuban knows how to do things like no one else.
 

His entire life fits inside a piano. From one end to the other of the keyboard, this Cuban knows how to do things like no one else, or perhaps like many others whom he has added to his sensibility. This may look like a paradox, but it isn’t. Since its beginnings, Cuba has woven a history rich in supreme artists in that instrument, like Nicolas Ruiz Espadero, Ignacio Cervantes, Ernesto Lecuona, Jorge Bolet and, in Jazz, Chucho Valdes. That’s why Prats rises above them as a guide to continuity in such a respectable exercise.

A sample of his exceptional piano playing took place in a concert in Charleston, South Carolina (usa). He arrived there along with music by Chopin and Debussy, but also by Granados and by Cuban Andres Alen, author of superb variations on works by singer/composer Silvio Rodriguez. Inside and outside of Cuba, Jorge Luis Prats has become famous. He started doing it as soon as he left the island in 1977, to take part in – no less – the very demanding Marguerite Long International Piano Contest in Paris, where –besides de first prize – he added the Chevillon-Bonnand and the Ravel awards for the best interpretation of the great French composer’s score.

Alejo Carpentier then wrote in an exemplary chronicle: “Now that the verdict is known it can be announced that it was reached unanimously – something rarely achieved has happened in this contest – and it is also known that, from the first audition, Jorge Luis Prats’ personality impressed the jury powerfully. ‘It’s possible, a very famous pianist said, that this time around we assist to something more than a brilliant contest; and we are perhaps favoring the beginning of the world-wide career of an absolutely exceptional talent’. Another one said, from the beginning, this promising opinion: ‘It’s not just about another pianist, but rather of a rare musical temperament’.”

Years have gone by and Prats’ position has become consolidated in the most competitive international concert music circuits, in spite of still not having an international record company to back him, or a transnational artistic management agency. London, Glasgow, Vienna, Paris, Rome, Mexico, Bogota, Madrid, Tokyo… he is a regular at the main concert halls and a guest of prestigious music organizations all over the world. He has performed with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, the Dresden Symphony Orchestra, the French orchestras of Pasdeloup and Lamoreaux, the Staatskapelle of Berlin and the bbc Symphony Orchestra; in festivals like the Cannes Classical midem, the Prague Spring Festival and the Katia Popova, in Bulgaria, where he won the first prize. These have been constant events since he first started, in Paris, conquering the world.

While it is true that since then he has perfected his art with professors such as Austrian Paul Badura Skoda and Russian Rudolf Kerer, Prats’ training has been basically Cuban. Prats was born in 1956 in Camaguey and, since he was six years old, he decided to study piano. With Margot Rojas he learned the secrets of technique and expression and later received valuable guidance from Frank Fernandez.

A review from the Geneva Journal, shows the supreme art he was able to convey in an October presentation in Geneva’s United Nations headquarters: “after each challenge, the artist grows. Before each composer, the artist becomes the soul of Ravel, by Granados, of Schumann, by Liszt. In the coherence of his style, one can find the presence of a genius. He comes and goes from the thrust and tension of the pause and the silence, and from violence and pain. Everything he plays is music.”

A few weeks later, Mexico’s Informador reported on a program with that country’s National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Enrique Diemecke: “Jorge Luis Prats rendered a full, precise, powerful and profound performance of Concert No. 3, for Piano and Orchestra in Re Minor, Op. 30, by Serguei Rachamaninov. It was a call for rubato in the related concepts of the soloist and the director, a succession of planes and mixing in the re-exposure of themes, with surprising use of keyboard dynamics by Prats.”

I have had the privilege of following Prats career since the days before his rise in Paris. I remember listening to the repertoire he took to the French capital in a small room in Cienfuegos (central Cuba) on a deteriorated Russian piano. He took over that city as if it were Pleyel’s Hall or Kennedy Center. What was important was adjusting each of the works.

But it was an even greater privilege to attend more than once to the creative process of his interpretations. Almost always in the silence of Havana’s nights, the artist submerges himself into long study sessions, insistently revising a certain phrase, a passage, a movement: the detailed and commented reading of a score, the confrontation of its several versions: his passion for being loyal to the letter and the spirit of the composition.

The artist researches recordings, listens to several versions, compares styles, contrasts criteria. And, he does not only drink from music, but also from the words and the images, from aesthetic essays and history books. Prats’ repertoire includes works by Bach, Rachmaninov, Liszt, Chaikovski, Scriabin, Prokofiev, Mozart, Schubert and Beethoven, but also by Argentinean Alberto Ginastera, Brazilian Heitor Villa Lobos and Cubans Ignacio Cervantes, Manuel Saumell, Ernesto Lecuona, Alfredo Diez Nieto, Carlos Fariñas and Juan Piñera.

his loyalty lies in the island and its surroundings. He travels around the world, but always comes home. He takes on Quixotesque projects, like assuming the artistic leadership of Cuba’s National Symphony Orchestra during the most critical times of the 1990s, just for the love of art and of his people.

In the article written by Carpentier about his Paris success, the great novelist and demanding musicologist said: “He is a magnificent representative of the first revolutionary artistic generation which is starting to produce such quality in an atmosphere where young people find, from the first expression of their vocation, all the necessary encouragement and support for the development and affirmation of their personality.”

Jorge Luis Prats has responded in art and ethics to such an early announcement. With him we are also confirming that talent is also a result of a very long conscience.

 
—Pedro de la Hoz for www.cubanow.net
 
 

Jorge Luis Prats
 

Jorge Luis

By Mart Engelen