Juana Zayas, Pianist
The lilting lyricism and impassioned power of pianist Juana Zayas’ playing is born of life experience.
Ms. Zayas has performed throughout Europe, South America and the United States. Known in particular for her exquisite and moving performances of Chopin, she opened the 1999 and 2000 Newport Music Festivals in Rhode Island, and played all of Chopin's Etudes at the 2000 World Piano Pedagogy Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, and at Piano Festival Northwest 2003 in Portland, Oregon. Ms. Zayas is regularly invited by the prestigious Serate Musicali to give recitals at Verdi Hall in Milan and has performed with the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra and the Zeeuws Orchestra in the Netherlands, the Orquesta Sinfónica de Radio Televisión Española in Madrid, the Venezuela Symphony Orchestra, and with orchestras such as the San Diego Symphony and Rochester Philharmonic. Additional performances have taken place at Portland Festival Northwest; Verdi Hall, Milan; Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; the French Embassy, Washington, DC; Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sarasota, Florida; and other venues and series. Her performances have been broadcast by National Public Radio and New York's WQXR. Ms. Zayas’ recordings have been released on Music & Arts Programs of America, Albany Records and ZMI, the most recent being an all-Schumann CD (including the Sonata Op. 22; Romance, Op 28, No. 2; Widmung by Liszt/Schumann; and Fantasie, Op 17); an all-Schubert CD (Sonata, D. 960, and Four Impromptus, D. 899), both on the Music & Arts label; and two CDs on the Zayas Masterworks, Inc., label (works by Bach-Busoni, Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt, Debussy, and Chopin).
Juana Zayas’ pull to music, specifically to the piano, was a strong and basic part of her nature. She began to pick out folk tunes on the keyboard by ear when only two years old. By age four, she was reading music and playing four-hand duets with her mother. At age seven, she entered the Peyrellade Conservatory of Music in Havana and gave her first solo recital, performing works by Beethoven, Handel, and Chopin. By age eleven, she had earned a Gold Medal at the Peyrellade Conservatory, performing the Schumann Concerto. During her childhood, the performances of Jorge Bolet, Claudio Arrau, Friedrich Gulda and Arthur Rubinstein (who played every year in Zayas’ native Havana) were among her earliest and most vivid musical experiences; their styles and musical personalities have been an inspiration to her ever since.
Ms. Zayas was able to leave Cuba with the intervention of her last teacher there, who was a friend of Joseph Benvenuti, Professor of Piano at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Paris. He urged Zayas to audition, which she did successfully. Zayas returned briefly to Cuba during the following summer, and then resumed her studies in Paris, never to return to her native land.
At the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique, Juana Zayas studied piano with Joseph Benvenuti and chamber music with René Le Roy, taking First Prize in both. Following her graduation, she won a Medal with Distinction at the International Music Competition in Geneva, Switzerland.
Being married in Versailles, Ms. Zayas moved first to England then to New York, where she studied with Adele Marcus, David Bar-Illan and Josef Raieff.
The arrival of three sons in quick succession necessitated a decrease in the number of her professional performances. During this time, however, she increased her repertoire, played a great deal of chamber music, and presented recitals locally, some of which were broadcast nationally by NPR. Fifteen years later, she re-emerged to glowing reviews and welcoming audiences all over the world. In October, 1977, Ms. Zayas gave her debut recital at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, performing the Mozart Sonata in F major, K. 332; Gaspard de la nuit by Ravel; and all of the 24 Chopin Etudes, Op. 10 and Op. 25, earning her a rave review in the New York Times by Harold C. Schonberg. Ten years later, she again played all the Chopin Etudes at Alice Tully Hall under the auspices of the Chopin Foundation Council of Greater New York.
The critical acclaim that Juana Zayas has consistently received over the years has touched on virtually every facet of music-making. In the International Piano Quarterly of Summer 1999, Donald Manildi discussed a Zayas recording as part of a survey of all the recordings of the Chopin Etudes: “A quite fabulous amalgam of lyricism, wit, drama, and sheer pianist craft, full of subtle and imaginative detail, lustrous tone, and impeccable technique.” He suggested that it made “a compelling first choice” among the hundred or so competing versions.
Harold C. Schonberg, in the July/August issue of American Record Guide, wrote, in part: “Zayas, Cuban-born, made her New York debut in 1977. I reviewed the concert. In our incestuous musical world, there is immediate international gossip when a major musician emerges. Word of mouth immediately penetrates all barriers. But this woman had no reputation, and I walked into Tully Hall not expecting very much. I went because I was curious to hear how an unknown could handle both books of Chopin Etudes. After ten measures of the first Etude I was bowled over, and Zayas went from strength to strength in one of the finest performances I have ever heard. Then she disappeared, though a recording of her concert was released by Music & Arts in 1983 — a recording that drove Chopinophiles mad with ecstasy. And so you can check for yourselves, and also from this new M&A release, whether or not my rave review was justified. Now, after all these years (it seems that she was busy raising a family) she is starting to resume her career, and her playing is just as colorful and exciting. She filters Chopin’s notes through a fertile mind, with a very personal but never overdone kind of romanticism that looks back to the great pianists of a previous age. Like Lortie, she appends the enigmatic but wonderful C-sharp minor Prelude that Chopin published as a separate piece some years after the 24. Zayas is an extraordinary pianist.”
David Mulbury, in the March/April 2005 issue of American Record Guide, wrote: “On the heels of her superb discs of Chopin and Schubert, Zayas here turns her attention to Schumann with impressive results. Her playing of the turbulent G minor Sonata brims with ardor, fire, and sparkling virtuosity… her admirable balance — there is never an excess of anything and she habitually avoids overstating the expressive, dramatic, and brilliant aspect of the music. And her technical equipment certainly ranks among the most formidable of today’s leading pianists.”
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