The Solace of Classical Piano Music

An Interview with Recording Amateur Pianist Ria Carlo

Ria Dawn Carlo in the recording studio performing a selection from Solace, the Sonata from Handel’s Suite in B-flat, HWV 434. In this case, “Sonata” refers to a movement within the Suite. In the video, Ria is playing on the Yamaha S4, the instrument on which she recorded most of Solace.
While her husband is an early riser, the amateur pianist Ria Carlo is a night owl who can maintain focus into the early morning hours. An astrophysicist by profession, Ria spends up to two hours a day practicing for her adult piano lessons. Most recently, Ria turned her prodigal energy and her passion for classical piano music towards the creation of her new CD, Solace, my November Selection of the Month.

In the video below, taken at the recording studio, Ria plays a movement from Handel’s Suite in B-flat. The music, full of energy yet married with a strong musicality and tremendous control, is illustrative of the entire album. The album’s energy takes the form of vivacity in the Handel, playfulness in the Rondo of Beethoven’s Pastoral Sonata, and fluidity in the rapid arpeggios of Lizst’s Un Sospiro. This is an album that unabashedly takes risks with the tempo, from the almost Romantic interpretation of Bach’s Prelude in C to the bewitching hesitations in Chopin’s posthumous Nocturne in C-sharp Minor. I liked the selection of Barber’s Excursion III to end the album, less well known music that captivates with its modern rhythms.

Ria joined GRAND PIANO PASSION™ for this exclusive interview.

Solace contains a wide selection of repertoire from Bach to Bartok. In what ways did playing less oft-heard works by Handel and Barber deepen your approach to the more popular Chopin and Liszt?

I believe that works by Baroque composers should be played expressively. It has been said of both Handel and Bach that they were strong personalities, and I cannot imagine their music being any less than full of passion! I had to use my imagination to try to interpolate on the piano what they may have wished to convey on the harpsichord, while at the same time taking advantage of the additional capabilities of the piano to help communicate the imagery and the mood of the music.

In much the same way, as a pianist, I try to get into the mind of what Chopin or Liszt had intended through the music. I like to remain true to the composer and score, yet be mindful that, as artists, we can introduce individualistic elements that are distinct to our own interpretation.

Works by the modern composer Samuel Barber have a mathematical quality with intricate rhythms and voicing; I think my IQ went up a few points figuring out how to play Barber! Honestly, after working through the rhythmic content of Excursions, playing seven notes in the right hand against eight notes in the left hand, five-against-eight, and many other odd combinations, it makes Romantic music of Liszt and Chopin look easy! As intricate as Liszt’s Un Sospiro is to play, I found Barber’s Excursions to be much more challenging. I am happy I learned to play Barber before Liszt. Sometimes it helps to overcome a big challenge, because it makes other things appear less difficult.

You recorded most of Solace‘s tracks on a Yamaha S4 concert grand. Tell us about the experience of playing on the S4.

I have played on many New York Steinways, a couple of Hamburg Steinway Ds, and a host of other pianos, yet the Yamaha S4, which is handmade and 6’3” long, is my favorite instrument to date. The S4 has a beautiful, ringing, sonorous resonance, yet with a clean and clear sound that comes out great on recordings. The overtones are beautiful, the sound is rich and warm, and the touch is velvety smooth with the responsiveness of a much larger piano. I can produce a seemingly infinite spectrum of colors on this instrument. Some reviews say that it sounds like heaven—which may sound melodramatic, but I agree 100 percent. It is my instrument of choice.

Recording a professional-quality CD takes concentration. How did you prepare yourself mentally before your recording sessions?

Some of the questions I asked myself were, “Why am I doing this?”, “Who is this for?”, and “What do I want to accomplish with this?”

I want to share the gift of music with others; I feel that this music has the power to uplift and heal hearts if it is played with love. The CD is for people who are seeking peace, a repose from stress and worry, and an experience that brings joy to the heart—which includes most people! This is what music has done for me, and it is my privilege to try to deliver these benefits to others. When I focus upon these ideals and what I want to accomplish, I am motivated and energized.

A digital version of Solace may be downloaded from cdbaby and Amazon. Hard copies of the CD may be purchased on Ria’s website.

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