Luisa Guembes-Buchanan, pianist

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

At 4½  years old, my mother took me to the National Conservatory of Music for music instruction. I tested 100% in the ear training with perfect pitch, being able to faithfully reproduce the music presented to me. I was immediately enrolled in piano, and was assigned to a piano teacher named Graciela Vasquez-Barreto. The interview with her was life-changing for me. In fact, during the interview, she asked me if I had a favourite piece of music. At that time, I was engrossed with reading a story of a lonely child who sat by the window and listened to the sound of the rain on the garden. While listening to Debussy (the piece of that name), not knowing what it entailed, I boldly told her that I wanted to start playing that piece. Graciela did not laugh at me or wince. All she said was what good taste I had. However, she was extremely busy, so would I mind starting from middle C? I accepted, feeling very magnanimous. And so my music career began. (By the way, it took me several years before I learned Debussy’s Estampes.)

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Two shoulder rotator cuff tears

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

My recording of six CDs compromising all of the late Beethoven works. I am also extremely proud of all my students, many of whom have gone on to very successful careers in music.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Robert Schumann’s Faschingsschwank and the G Minor Sonata

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

Painting, sculpture, and literature are great inspirations to me.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

Reading about music, the analysis of it, new performances, new pieces, and reviewing old manuscripts

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

The Concert Haus in Berlin. Magnificent acoustics and the audiences are numerous and very welcoming.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?

In the US, unfortunately music education takes a back seat. So it is very difficult to suddenly become knowledgeable or interested in music.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I started a music department at a summer school in the smallest town in what was then East Germany. The director of the school provided a concert Bösendorfer, which she placed in the school gymnasium, complete with basketball hoops, and proceeded to tell me, this is your concert hall, your music school, and everything. The townspeople, knowing this was acoustically impossible, donated materials to make a big curtain that would ameliorate the “hall” and hide the basketball hoops, and lots of mismatched chairs that came from a variety of people. This was called the concert hall of the town, and it was here that I conducted masterclasses, and where the students performed. Although the acoustics may not have been perfect, the piano was great, and the audience was most appreciative of all of our efforts.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

After many years of conducting masterclasses on a professional level, and mentoring and coaching advanced young musicians, my definition of success is helping these students achieve entrance to music colleges and succeeding in the career they pursued.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

At all costs, they have to inform themselves of the background and substance of the music they are learning and/or performing. It is not enough to just play the piece; you have to know where it comes from and the ideas behind it. And don’t assume you can do it better. Don’t improve on the composition, just do your best. Be true to your convictions and your knowledge.

Concert pianist, musicologist and educator, Luisa Guembes-Buchanan was born in Lima, Peru, where she received her early musical education at the Conservatorio Nacional de Música.

Ms. Guembes-Buchanan holds degrees in Performance and Musicology from the Manhattan School of Music, C.W. Post College, New York University and Boston University.

In addition to her numerous Master Classes, Ms. Guembes-Buchanan is a founding member of several teaching and performing organizations dedicated to promoting young performer’s education and to facilitating performance opportunities for them. As a musicologist, she has lectured and participated in panel discussions in the United States and Latin America.

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