The important thing in art is constancy

By: Jesús Arencibia Lorenzo

Franco Rivero Bueno en Casa Amauta Pinar del Río. Foto: Jesús AL

Apart from the “Franco” that bears by name and the “Good” of the second surname, you could use the adjective “Virtuoso” to round out its definition. Heir to a magnificent channel of lyrics and chords, as a child he leaned his balance towards music, that language without the uncomfortable boundaries of languages. Winner of two Cubadisco awards, the last of them for a monumental rescue of the work of the Cuban genius Ernesto Lecuona , who has been researching and sharing for years – this young man joins the quiet tenacity to work success and bonhomía so as not to get angry.

I have seen it on the exquisite concert afternoons of Casa Amauta, in Pinar del Río, take your soul out of the piano with a cleansing and concentration of anthology and then, after thanking with chivalrous style; slip hand in hand with his beloved so that the echo of praise does not break the course of plainness. In several cities on the island such as Sancti Spíritus, Matanzas and Holguín, and in others in the United States, Mexico or Spain, their art has gone unlucky the demand and enthusiasm of the public. Questionnaire through, here go the vital melodies of Franco Rivero Bueno (Havana, 1982), who knows, too, organize ideas with a display of symphony.

The music comes from family: grandmother who played the piano, great Oboist father… Apart from an impulse, did this genealogy not also represent a somewhat severe commitment?

“The need for art emerged as a natural thing in me. Maybe the genetic component plays some role in this story. At first the influence of my maternal grandfather, Salvador Bueno, who as is known was a remarkable critic and essayist. Listening to him was a real pleasure. There was no literary subject that was not well documented. However, he was not a very conversational grandfather. He was rather quiet. What I do remember very well is the typing of that old typewriter that didn’t stop all morning and part of the afternoon. Art was breathed into the house through him and the friendships that frequented him.

“Then came contact with the music through the paternal network. My grandmother Ophelia was a pianist, although I never heard her because she was very shy. My uncle Juan Carlos, percussionist, for which I wanted to study drums, but an auditory problem prevented me. And most importantly, the contact and discovery of my father’s wonderful musical world, Jorge Rivero Tirado, which is here point and apart.”

Franco Rivero Bueno
Franco Rivero Bueno

Your artistic training takes place between Cuba and Mexico, what could you distinguish as the main contribution of each academy to polish the vocation you already had?

“I studied some plastic arts as a child, as my mother took me to them as well as to the music initiation workshops held on Saturday mornings at Marianao’s Caturla Conservatory. But when I turned the required age, I enrolled this school as an oboe student. The piano spell, we might say, begins here, watching my teammates prepare their programs.

“While I was assigned a teacher who, as part of the curriculum, taught me the supplementary piano subject, it was not enough for me. Then I started on my own first to compose and then reproduce the things my teammates played.

“I must clarify that my advances in the instrument were made possible by my Aunt Aida giving me the piano that had been of my grandmother Ophelia. He was officially an oboist, but what he devoted all the time to was the piano. It was in 1999, when I went to Mexico, where my dad had lived for years, to take an oboe course with him, that we had that defining conversation in my life.

“He sat me at the table and told me that for him there was no doubt: leave the oboe and devote all the effort to the piano. I had taken some classes in Cuba with the teacher Amado Touza, but my training up to that point was essentially self-taught. I needed a new boost, a new goal to prove to me that I could do it and redirect my career.

“His proposal was magnificent. He said, ‘We’re going to do a concert together where you’ll join me with the most important repertoire for oboe and piano. The other thing he told me was, ‘Learn the hardest play you want to play the most.’ My dad’s words had the effect of a spark next to a bunch of gunpowder and I started studying for ten hours a day. What I wanted to play the most at the time was the second Rachmaninov Concerto.

“This thing that I tell happened in October ’99. By December we were already doing the first of many concerts we did together, which would culminate in the recording of a record in 2005 that included some of all the material that we were playing during those years. The album was called Sin Límites and won an award at Cubadisco the following year.

“On the other hand I entered the Conservatory of Roses of Morelia, as a piano student. The first exam was presented precisely with the second Rachmaninov Concerto. I finished the Bachelor’s degree with the highest qualification in 2008 under the tutelage of the master Eduardo Montes”.

Could you tell me what your discovery (and glare) was like with the work of Ernesto Lecuona?

“The year of its centenary occurred in 1995. A series of tributes and contests had been held. At school they started playing their plays and I immediately fell in love with them. The result was that I ended up touching them all. It was that simple. By ear I played the first ones, because I didn’t have the scores.

“It didn’t take me long to convince my grandfather to talk to Maria Teresa Linares, then director of the Music Museum, to provide me with the scores. So did my grandfather for me at the National Library. There I could only look at the works for a while. In the middle of the Special Period there was no ink or paper to make the photocopies. I retained as best I could those notes in my memory and started touching them when I got to the house. So began that experience with Lecuona’s music.”

Franco Rivero Bueno
Franco Rivero Bueno

Do you think in Cuba it is known and studied enough at master size?

“The truth is that there were always people who made valuable efforts to keep his work and memory alive as Esther Borja, who included him in his television shows and concerts with pianist Nelson Camacho; Huberal Herrera, who was the first to offer a series of three recitals at the National Library that collected until that time most of his piano production; Orlando Martínez, who wrote his biography and, later, on his centenary, when he prepared a book about his artistic career by the musicologist Jesús Gómez Cairo, the recording of three cds that the SGAE made in Spain to Huberal Herrera and a series of concerts and contests that would culminate with that beautiful gala starring the teacher Frank Fernández (that’s when I heard an octogenarian Maria de los Angeles Santana sing the famous habanera “You’re going” unforgettable feeling). It was that same night that I heard another important defender of the work of the master, the American pianist Thomas Tirino, who recorded five cds at the time with Lecuona’s piano music.

“A value like Lecuona is not given every day in all countries and we were fortunate that it was given in ours. That is why we must not give in to the efforts to continue to disseminate his work.”

Could it be said that the Set of CDs of “Lecuona todo piano”, and the consequent Cubadisco prize, in 2013, marks a before and after in your artistic performance? Seven years after that award, how do you evoke it?

“I was preparing one of the cycles of his piano plays and taking them to my dad to listen to me when one morning he tells me: that’s what you have to record. I made the proposal to the Institute of Music, which was directed by Abel Acosta at the time, who welcomed the project with great enthusiasm and it turned out that within a few months I was recording Lecuona’s piano integral on the land that saw him born. At that time I recorded a hundred and twenty works, an unprecedented figure in the discography dedicated to his music.

“The Cubadisco Special Prize was something that filled me with pleasure and I consider it in turn an act of recognition of Cuba to the work of one of his most valuable children. Later I had the idea of broadening the spectrum and recovering something that had never been done before: the integral of his works for voice and piano.

“It was a project that I presented to the Institute of Music at the time, with Orlando Vistel being its president, and it was also given all the support. In both projects I counted on the production of the teacher Jesús Gómez Cairo. In this case the volume of works was considerably higher and included singers. It was a long and complex process in which we had to choose the right voices and discard others, as well as impose a strong rhythm of rehearsals to assemble and polish what after four years ended up being the set of two hundred and fifty-seven works performed by twelve singers under my driving and piano accompaniment.”

What anecdotes do you keep from the “shock” with audiences as diverse as those in Mexico, Cuba, usa? Could it be said that the language of music breaks all borders?

“Audiences are not always the same, nor do they always behave in the same way. Some are more expressive than others. But what everyone has in common is that they are susceptible to the quality and sensitivity of what is presented to them. An interpreter can be measured by the level of blending he achieves with the audience at the time of interpretation.

“There is a kind of palpable collective wisdom from the first few seconds of the concert, which can be seen in the silence in which the auditorium is unified. An audience waiting to be surprised by various unsuspected emotions.

“But in this sense there are no differences. Only some are more introverted and some are more outgoing. I like seconds more. But never has the end been that, because ultimately music gives it to oneself no matter how much if you clap hard or soft.”

Franco Rivero Bueno
Franco Rivero Bueno

What was it like to compose music for perfume for the 500 years of Havana? Do you think odors naturally sound?

“I think the mind and imagination are capable of whatever we want. And that music can be associated with a smell like a color and vice versa, what happens is that all this happens from subjectivity. Because what for me can be joyful to you may seem sad. Look, I started writing a play for that perfume and ended up making seven. Which also indicates that a person can see the same thing from different subjectivities.”

Tell me about two special experiences: the bond with Carilda Oliver Labra and the work with poetry of José Martí…

“The bond with a great poet like Carilda Oliver Labra in the first place is something that fills me with pride. Because imagine what it’s like to be able to kiss the hand that wrote “The Earth.” That “… I will not keep with me any homeland, I want it all upon my grave.” It’s overwhelming.

“I always admired Carilda. What I didn’t know was the gift that life had in store for me when it was my turn to share with her the talks ‘South of My Throat’, which were organized in their own home in the final stage of their life. Yes, I’m so lucky to have shared with Carilda that she was as overwhelming as her poetry.

“You have to see how that woman recited her poems. Like in a trance. A real artist. Once in Mexico I was honored to offer a poetic-musical recital with her. I also put music to ten of his poems and in several concerts he could hear them in the voice of the excellent singer Cary Rivero, accompanied by me at the piano. She really liked them. But best of all, we were able to exchange ideas about how he had created certain poems.

“I really like the ones in the book The Illuminated Bones, they are verses to the homeland, to their heroes, to the martyrs she herself met, they were her friends and she helped them, like Reynol García and Julian Alemán. There is the ‘Canto a Fidel’, the ‘Canto a Matanzas’… Anyway, a tremendous poet, of whom the erotic facet of her production has become very famous, with that ‘I messy love…’, but do not forget that she is also an impressive writer of heroic subjects.

“With Martí it’s different. Martí enters my life with the first book that my grandfather Salvador gives me, a beautiful facsimilar edition of The Golden Age, one of my favorite books. Then life passed and the time came when I lived in Mexico and there I began to read many things about Martí. It is unforgettable the epistolar exchange I had with my grandfather following those readings, who in turn sent me volumes from his library so that I could continue to satisfy my curiosity about the work of the Master.

“Since then the idea of musicalizing what becomes a kind of autobiography of Martí, or rather passages of his life, began to burst into my head. I mean the book Simple Verses. But that idea didn’t fit until years later. And as I have always been a composer who gets carried away by the inspiration of the moment, in this case the inspiration arose in 2008, when I composed the first cycle of ten songs that I dedicated to my grandfather and a time later I ended up musicalizing thirty more, almost the whole book. They have mostly been performed by the excellent Cuban tenor Bernardo Lichilin, in several concerts, one of them even filmed for Cuban television from the hall of the National Museum of Fine Arts. This motivated journalist Julio Acanda to dedicate one of his famous Sunday chronicles about the creative process around Martí’s work.”

You said that for your partner, it must be hard to live next door to someone who is totally devoted to art. How do you bond so that the stress of study and creation does not drown out the other spaces and needs of the couple?

“The creators usually hide in that phrase that art demands a lot from us, as if art were someone who could talk and tell one what to do. The truth is that art is not a person, but the women of artists end up claiming to share one’s time with them as if art were between them.

“I believe that this happens in ninety-five percent of cases and it is normal, because art, in order for it to become a passion within the one to whom you transmit it, must first be a passion within you. And when you get passionate about something, you spend time with it. And being under the effects of that passion an hour may seem to me for a minute… Things become relative.

“In my particular case I must say that I have been very lucky to have by my side someone as intelligent and understanding as Susana. Who enjoys what I do, which is my best review, friend, and other things. I’m really lucky to have all that in one being.”

What else, apart from studying and playing music do you enjoy doing as a hobby? How much does a piano artist have to take care of himself to keep his hands, brain and emotion “in full combative disposition” as the military would say?

“What I do most to spread is read and listen to music. Although I love the beach and the cinema, they are activities that time does not allow me to perform with the same frequency.

“As for the second part of the question: it perhaps leads me to another: How can we strike the balance between mortality, so to speak, and art, a magical world? Artists must be aware that we are human beings with other needs, even if we never cease to be artists in anything we do. Sometimes we have harder days than others. I confess to you that I have been through potholes in the course of life in which the heart of the matter has been the balance between the professional and the personal.

“For the artist the most important thing is to stay at an equis level of realization and this requires dedication. But if your level of demand is above what you are able to give, you already have the result of frustration. So how do you manage your demand and expectation? This without discounting the fact that the overcoming is given to the extent that your level of demand is always above what you can give… It’s complex.

One day Master Luis Carbonell, from whom I was lucky enough to receive his advice, said to me, ‘The important thing in art is constancy.’ I knew what lesson I was trying to follow.

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