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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 16, No. 10 July 2011

Beatrice Rana: a Star is Born

by Lucie Renaud / July 1, 2011

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[Translation: Aleshia Jensen]

Every year at the Montreal International Musical Competition, amateur musicians come together for about ten days to partake in the pleasure of devouring repertoire with other devoted musicians with the mad hope that, maybe, they will become or witness the birth of a new star. Decades go by, yet past winners Ivo Pogorelich’s overwhelming presence and Measha Brueggergosman’s contagious charisma remain unforgettable; this time, it will be Beatrice Rana’s name etched in our hearts.

From the moment she sat down at the piano during the first round of the competition, Rana sent chills through the room. Throughout the recital, she demonstrated her power, consistency, subtlety and remarkable range of musical textures. These were at their best during Mendelssohn’s Fantaisie, Opus 28—a work which took on a particular depth under her fingers. She is a real personality, reminiscent of Argerich as a debutante minus the overwhelming intensity.

However, Rana almost missed her appointment with destiny: her school principal had refused to allow the hard-working yet atypical student the two weeks of “vacation” that were inconveniently timed before final exams—she could have been prevented from competing altogether. It was thanks to the determination of her mother (also a pianist, as is her father), who argued her cause before the highest authorities at the school board, that she was able to attend. “I was relaxed when I got there. I felt like I’d already won because I’d been chosen as one of the 24 candidates,” explains Rana with a smile, via Skype, 15 days after her victory was announced. François Gélinas, who hosted the mother and daughter during the competition—and spontaneously gifted his instrument to the young musician after falling under the charm of her playing—remembers that Mrs. Rana was already worried when she arrived at the airport that the jury would not be able to appreciate the emotional depth of her daughter’s playing.

The semi-final recital should have quelled this fear: the audience’s enthusiasm for Rana was anything but short-lived. After a solid Troisième Scherzo by Chopin, she played Ravel’s devastatingly hard Gaspard de la nuit with remarkable fluidity—breathing, fluttering, never falling into rhythmic imprecision. In Bartók’s Suite Out of Doors, the Italian pianist adopted a completely different style, living each moment of silence and building on contrasting sounds. “I didn’t think I was going to win, but I hoped I would,” she reflects, “During the first round, I played well and hoped to go on to the second. The next round went even better than the first, so I hoped to be chosen for the final round and, of course, when I got there, I hoped to be one of the three laureates.” She notes that during the competition, she followed blogs and read articles, and realized how well things were going for her. “But the most important thing was to make a connection with the audience and to play like I would have for any other recital. At that moment, you feel free—you don’t think about the fact that you are being evaluated; you just appreciate the music.”

There’s no doubt: Rana remained entrenched in the music. In Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1—a piece she began playing at age 15, left to mature, and then rediscovered—the phrasing was subtle and the breaths perfectly timed. Her sound quality and attention never wavered; the 18-year-old pianist showed an exceptional sense of direction and proved that technique doesn’t need to be pushed to the forefront of a performance for playing to be captivating. After 10 days of intensive playing—punctuated with much-needed naps—she was crowned queen of MIMC’s 10th anniversary edition.

So how does one go back to the regular life of a studious adolescent after that? By returning home to one of her household’s four pianos (her younger sister, who is a violinist, made a return trip to Cremona, Italy with their father to pick up a new instrument during the MIMC; “We make a lot of noise!” laughs Rana) and her Mamma’s good food (to the delight of Beatrice’s host father, Mrs. Rana cooked her daughter’s favorite meals throughout the competition). Neglecting her schoolwork is out of the question and, of course, she continues to practice regularly, as recitals and orchestral concerts are coming up on her festival calendar (she will be playing Tchakovsky again as well as Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1). “I don’t like to stop playing because all that energy can be channeled in such a positive way. I think the most difficult part is to stop thinking about the competition. I’ve had amazing offers, but I still have to keep working, focusing on real things. I need to prepare, not just with the piano, but mentally. I loved the energy at the competition, but for the years to come, I just want to continue making music.”

Under the tutelage of her professor, Benedetto Lupo, Rana will begin practicing new repertoire. Chopin, Rachmaninoff or Beethoven—she likes them all. "Every composer interests me in their own way. You don’t need to work on one piece a day; you can live with the same piece for a year and discover something totally different. Not because you’ve forgotten the piece, but because it has grown with you.” There’s no doubt that over the course of the coming year, Beatrice Rana will continue to grow on us, too.

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