Pianist Chetan Tierra — Return of a Native Son

Chetan Tierra

If you weren’t at Peace United Church in Santa Cruz on Sunday afternoon, September 8th, you missed a great piano recital, presented by the Distinguished Artists Concert Series’ director John Orlando as a special event, not part of the regular series, by native son Chetan Tierra from Ben Lomond, now in his mid 30’s and living/teaching in San Diego with his lovely wife, also a pianist.

This writer first reviewed him around 20 years ago when he was a student of Hans Boepple and a “Wunderkind” — I often listen in my car to Tierra’s super CD from 2007. For several years, he has focused on a rock band; but, fortunately for musicians everywhere, he has put that behind him and returned to the classical “fold” with added maturity and intensity.

After high school in the San Lorenzo Valley he won a full scholarship to the prestigious Oberlin Conservatory. However, he found its curriculum wanting and relocated to the Cleveland Institute of Music to study with Van Cliburn Competition winner Antonio Pompa-Baldi, who had given a recital in the early 1990’s at the Henry Mello Center in Watsonville). Pompa-Baldi had been a laureate in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, the Queen Elisabeth of Belgium Competition and many others. His 2006 Carnegie Hall debut recital received rave reviews. 

The more than 200 of us present for his triumphant return (including many non-subscribers to Distinguished Artists) were overjoyed to hear Chetan on the magnificent Yamaha CFX concert grand which he had tried out in 2009 and enthusiastically recommended — it is now his favorite piano worldwide.

The program opened with a captivating, super-expressive traversal of the 1784 Mozart Sonata in F Major K.332 (also on his CD), with very light pedaling and a singing tone full of subtle nuances. Then came Chopin’s Ballade No. 2, Op. 38 (1836-39), a “story in music” for the listener to create –- without the specific “programs” so familiar in Schumann.  After this, we were treated to Chetan’s favorite –- Ballade No. 4, Op. 52, also a “withheld narrative,” from 1841, with a soft, poetic opening, introspective and expressive, that became under Chetan’s hands a deep, probing hypnotic finale.

Then off to Debussy’s Images Book I from 1905, with its shimmering impressionistic Reflections in the Water, followed by an appropriately somber sarabande Homages a Rameau, and concluding with a fine buzzing and swarming Movement — an unstoppable perpetual motion in which Chetan created an absolute torrent of sound, error-free, as in everything he played for us. 

Chetan Tierra is a fine pianist who not only gives lessons in person but has a well-regarded online video course “Master your Practicing, www.masterful musician.com.” He is now also an emerging composer and played for us three of the 11 brief “Moon Shadows,” in a world premiere performance of the set available on CD. These soft, evanescent “mood pieces” written in the middle of the night during bouts of insomnia are very soothing and soporific, and reminded this writer of Oliver Messiaen’s ‘style’ in his bird compositions with their soft trillings and cooings.

Scriabin’s post-Chopin-influenced Piano Sonata No. 4 in F Sharp minor c. 1903 concluded the printed program. The two-movement, eight-minute work is, according to Chetan, “pursuing a distant star.” It began with a delicate Andante, and concluded with a ’prestissimo volando,’ which under the pianists’ hands was fast and flying with fff passages buzzing with exciting energy.

The very enthusiastic audience was treated to two appropriate encores: a fast and percussive (while sometimes gentle) Prokofiev Etude and a showy Debussy Arabesque, brilliantly executed, as were all of his selections. Chetan found for each their appropriate styles, while displaying an inexhaustible affinity for every piece he performed.

Now that Chetan Tierra is back in the “classical fold” for good, we expect him to continue maturing and hope to hear him and his wife together in a work such as the haunting and tragic Schubert Fantasia in F minor for piano, four hands, a work they already know, as well as other solo works by each of them. COME HOME AGAIN SOON!


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