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Published: Thursday, 9/27/2001 - Updated: 1 year ago

'Emperor' once haunted pianist

BY STEVEN CORNELIUS
BLADE MUSIC CRITIC

When Cuban-born pianist Horacio Gutierrez performs this evening in the Peristyle, it will be his first Toledo performance in nearly 20 years. That has been too long a wait, he says.

Early in his career, Gutierrez played in Toledo regularly - four times between 1975 and 1983. Even today, he maintains friendships in Toledo that were developed during those years.

“When you are young, the early concerts become a source of good memories and opportunities,” he said this week by phone from his home in New York City. “I have many fond memories of Toledo.”

Gutierrez, 53, will perform Beethoven's “Emperor” concerto with conductor Andrew Massey and the Toledo Symphony at 8 tonight and tomorrow in the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle.

Generally considered one of the greatest pieces in the piano repertoire, the “Emperor” was a source of consternation for Gutierrez for years before he began performing it.

“I used to have a dream about the ‘Emperor' concerto. In the dream, I would be on stage listening as the orchestra played the first chord, second chord, third chord. ... Then [as the introduction developed] I would suddenly realize that I don't know this piece,” he said.

“I don't consider myself to be superstitious, but the dream really bothered me. I have never had anything like this happen in my waking life, or even other similar dreams. Even so, I decided that the day I played this piece in public, I would have to be very secure.”

Gutierrez reached the proper level of security in 1996. Since then, he has performed the “Emperor” without mishap any number of times with orchestras across the country.

As for the dream, it disappeared as soon as the piece was learned.

In retrospect, Gutierrez said he is glad he came to the “Emperor” relatively late in his career. The piece deserves all the attention maturity can bring.

“With the ‘Emperor,' Beethoven closes one chapter of music and opens another. The piece is the father of the great Romantic concertos but also thoroughly at the zenith of the Classical tradition. It is the tension between these two visions that gives the piece its power,” he said.

The descendant of four generations of musicians on his mother's side, Gutierrez was born in Cuba in 1948. He made his orchestral debut with the Havana Symphony at age 11. The next year, his family left Cuba for Colombia. Six months later, the family moved again, this time to Los Angeles. There, Gutierrez studied with the great Russian pedagogue, and onetime teacher of Vladimir Horowitz, Sergei Tarnowsky.

From Los Angeles, Gutierrez moved to New York City, where he attended the Juilliard School of Music. He won the Silver Medal in the 1970 Tchaikovsky Competition. That same year, conductor Zubin Mehta took it upon himself to introduce Gutierrez to the broader musical community. These events set his professional career in motion.

Also on this weekend's program will be the overture from Beethoven's The Creatures of Prometheus and Richard Strauss' rarely played and hugely orchestrated “An Alpine Symphony.”

Pianist Horacio Gutierrez will join conductor Andrew Massey and the Toledo Symphony in a program of music by Beethoven and Richard Strauss at 8 tonight and tomorrow in the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle. Tickets range from $15 to $39. Information: 246-8000.



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