Pianist Antonio Iturrioz at Cabrillo College

Antonio Iturrioz was born in Cuba and came to the United States when he was 7 years old. He played his first concert at age 9 and made his orchestral debut at age 15 playing the Liszt First Piano Concerto. His teachers include his father, Pablo Iturrioz, Francisco De Hoyos (a pupil of Gyorgi Sandor), Bernardo Segall who studied with Alexander Siloti who was a pupil of Liszt, Aube Tzerko and Julian White. In 1971 he took several master classes from Byron Janis. In 1972 he participated in the Aspen Music Festival, and in 1973 he was one of ten young pianists selected nationwide by Andre Watts to participate in the Andre Watts Piano Seminars at Tanglewood. He is a recipient of the Los Angeles Young Musicians Foundation Scholarship.

In 1973, just before Tanglewood, he fell while jogging and injured his right hand. At the time, the extent of the injury was not apparent, and after Tanglewood he continued to play recitals. Hiding his hand injury, he moved to Los Angeles to study with Bernardo Segall. While preparing for the 1977 Cliburn Contest, 10-12 hours a day at the piano began to take its toll on his right hand, and Iturrioz dropped out of the Cliburn competition to seek medical attention. In the spring of 1977 he had surgery on his right hand.

It was 3 years before he could play again with both hands. During these difficult years he tackled almost the entire left hand piano repertoire including all of the Leopold Godowsky left hand arrangements and compositions. Encouragement from family and friends, most particularly from the late Marina Derryberry (Jon Nakamatsu’s teacher) kept Iturrioz on the path to complete recovery. His repertoire ranges from Scarlatti to present day composers. He plays the complete piano works of Robert Schumann and has a special affinity for the five Rachmaninoff works for piano and orchestra. He recently added a new body of Godowsky works to his repertoire, both original and arrangements. Several contemporary composers have written works for Mr. Iturrioz.

His career interrupted by the hand injury, Iturrioz found it difficult to get back into circulation. He had missed the Cliburn and the important competitions for pianists of his age. His reputation as a consummate artist was reestablished when he was invited to play in Athens at the Hellenic American Union, received good reviews, and was invited back twice to play at the American College of Greece.

It was at this point that Iturrioz decided to capitalize on his extensive left hand repertoire to produce an educational film about left hand piano music. This became his first film, a one-of-a-kind documentary called “The Art of the Left Hand: A Brief History of Left Hand Piano Music,” which appeared in 2006 to critical acclaim and has been shown on PBS. “The Buddha of the Piano” about the legendary pianist Leopold Godowsky followed in 2010 and again the inspiration came from those Godowsky studies during his recovery from right hand surgery. It is the first and only film about Godowsky and has been shown on PBS and at the Portland International Piano Festival in Oregon.

During his present appearance on the Distinguished Artists Concert and Lecture Series, Iturrioz presented a showing of his film on Saturday evening to an enthusiastic audience On Sunday afternoon, November 6, he then appeared as a piano soloist at Cabrillo College under the auspices of The Distinguished Artists Concert and Lecture Series.

PENINSULA REVIEWS had originally scheduled reviewer Holland Garcia to attend and review the concert, however a medical emergency kept him home and the concert went un-reviewed. Since such an important and unusual concert deserved some sort of public notice, I asked John Orlando, Executive Director of the series to say a few words about the concert.

Orlando replied, “Last month, when the Iranian-American pianist, Soheil Nasseri, made his entrance onto the stage and presented his definitive performance and interpretation of Beethoven’s monumental Hammerklavier Sonata, he could be compared to a gladiator that had skillfully slain the mythical Minotaur, gloriously winning his right to place one foot on the carcass, salute the adoring crowds, and be awarded the Emperor’s coveted Sword of Freedom.”

“By contrast, Cuban-American pianist Antonio Iturrioz resembled a Capuchin monk, cloaked in simplicity, humility and devotion. His selfless touch transformed the hall into a sanctuary where an offering was made with the simplest of ceremony on the altar of truth and beauty to the highest levels of art. It was an elegant, beautiful and touching performance – the kind that inspires you and brings tears to your eyes.”

“Below are some comments sent to me following his performances that were intended to be forwarded to Mr. Iturrioz.”

Your performance at Cabrillo College last Sunday was wonderful! 

The Liszt Legend was, as always, carefully crafted to bring out the profound emotional drama of the piece by balancing the lyricism with the Lisztian pyrotechnics to produce a finely tuned interpretation that was powerful and inspiring. Your octaves had power and speed without ever becoming overbearing, and your “wave effects” were so masterfully executed that I found myself swaying as if there on the sea myself. 

Artist’s Life is an incredible work, and you executed it flawlessly and with a rare sophistication. It’s hard to cite a direct comparison because so few pianists even attempt it, but I think it’s safe to say that if Godowsky himself could have heard you, he would have smiled and nodded his approval. Even before you struck the last notes, the members of the audience were rising from their seats. 

I was delighted that you played the Scriabin left-hand Nocturne. It was a delight for me to hear you play those stunningly beautiful trills as only you can play them. Along with Artist’s Life and Kinderszenen, I think this is one of the pieces that you “own”. Your interpretation of Kinderszenen is so intimate and personal that I believe it must be the fruit of decades of reflection, introspection and experimentation. Each piece sparkles in its own way, and yet they all fit together as tightly as the pieces of a puzzle, presenting a picture of childhood that is both unique and universal. I suspect that there were more than a few damp eyes in the hall. 

I was delighted to hear you play El Cocoye, and delighted that you are bringing some well-deserved attention to the music of Gottschalk. He deserves to be played much more often than he is. You play the filigreed high notes with a delicacy and exoticism that must come from that Cuban blood in your veins. The same can be said for NocheAzul and Tango Blue; though the two pieces are quite different in their harmonies, they are similar in their affect, and both require great delicacy and discretion if they are to produce a mood of tranquility and sensuality, and you pulled it off exquisitely – Charles Harris

What a perfect recital you played on Sunday!

Where I was seated I could hear the wonderful nuances of your playing, the ravishing pianissimos, the gorgeous tone production and control, which was most apparent in the Scriabin and the Schumann. Of course the audience is always responsive to the virtuosic displays of the Liszt and the Godowsky, as they should, but I was most happy to hear that everything was at the service of the music, that your sensitivities were always for the music, the beauty and the architecture, the form and the complete regard for the meaning of the showers of notes. Your use of the pedals is truly masterful. What a lesson on how to use them to enhance, bring out the coloristic nature of the music, and give the music shape. The Schumann is always my favorite, the way you play it , so different and daring, you let the simplicity and the beauty just speak out, and make us follow the long sense of the melodic line breathlessly waiting for inevitable rest at the end. My student seated next to me has tried to play it, I have tried to teach it to her, but she had no idea it could sound like that, she was in tears. 

Thank you for this gift, it was most appreciated at least by me, and I hope it was recorded, although I don’t think it can ever reproduce what it was like hearing you in person. You are an artist always in search of the perfection which is sometimes unattainable. The most that most of us can do is aim for is a proximity, but for me, you got there. – Josephine Alvarado

The next event in the  Distinguished Artists Concert and Lecture Series will be The Kremlin Chamber Orchestra direct from Moscow Featuring acclaimed Piano Soloist Sara Davis, which will take place at 8 pm on February 4 in Cabrillo’s Crocker Theater.



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