Many accomplished musicians get an early start to their training, but pianist Beatrice Rana took this to the extreme. “It began even before I was born because my parents are both pianists,” she says. As a young child, Rana was attracted to the instrument as if it were a big toy—she was always trying to play it. Her parents encouraged this exploration, and started her in formal lessons at age three.
A few years later—at age seven or eight—Rana had a revelatory experience when she attended her first orchestral concert. “I listened to the Haydn Cello Concerto No. 1 in C Major, and I remember thinking that the music was just so extraordinary—I had goosebumps. I felt that music was such a powerful way of communicating.”
Rana brings her own artistry to Carnegie Hall in a double debut this season: first in a solo recital on March 12 and second in a concerto performance with The Philadelphia Orchestra on June 7.
For Rana, inspiration comes not just from the music, but also from the environment of her hometown of Lecce in the south of Italy. “It’s really one of the most amazing places on earth because of its nature: the sea, the beach, and the olive trees. It is one of the most baroque cities in Italy, so there is also the sense of beauty on the city streets.” Beyond its physical attributes, Italy’s national passion for opera had a major influence on Rana. “That counts a lot because it is a very dramatic way of approaching life. The concept of bel canto—or ‘beautiful singing’—very much shows in my playing because it’s part of my culture and my background.”
In 2013, Rana won the silver medal at the prestigious Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas. It was a life-changing experience. “I had many turning points, but the Cliburn was the one that made my life really different because it was such an important event in the piano world.” She entered the Cliburn because she wanted to perform in the United States, a goal that has since been realized abundantly. “The number of concerts that resulted from that competition was just so much—it was shocking at first, not to mention the added media exposure.”
With the elevated status of being a Cliburn medalist came increased pressure at performances. “I would arrive at a venue, and they’d say, ‘Oh my God, she’s the silver medalist,’ and I always felt I had to demonstrate why I won that medal. So the first season after the Cliburn was quite tough.” Rana eventually recognized that she didn’t have to prove anything, she could just enjoy what she had accomplished. “That was the real turning point for me,” she says, “because I realized that I was not in the competition world anymore; I was in the concert world and that was much better.”
Even before the Cliburn, Rana was winning her way through the competition circuit. She took first prize at the 2011 Montreal International Musical Competition, where she got to know music director and conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin. She later performed with him and his Orchestre Métropolitain, which Rana says was an absolutely wonderful experience. “It was one of those meetings that really changed my life because Yannick is such a generous musician and person. It was even more special to get to know him in his hometown with his own orchestra, because I really felt the great respect and love that the musicians have for him.”
Rana played with The Philadelphia Orchestra for the first time in 2015 at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. During the initial rehearsal, she was bowled over by the orchestra’s brilliance, hearing first-hand why the orchestra’s nickname is “The Fabulous Philadelphians.” With the venerable orchestra and Nézet-Séguin at Carnegie Hall this June, she will play Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3—what she refers to as an optimistic and happy concerto. “There are not many pieces that I say are fun to play, but Prokofiev No. 3 is definitely one of them. It’s incredibly witty, and also it’s really nice how the orchestra interacts with the piano in such an intelligent way. And it has one of the most beautiful melodies in music history, an amazing cantabile in the third movement.”
Rana says she is glad that her first ever performance at Carnegie Hall will be a solo recital. “It is such an intense and special way of interacting with the audience, it makes a very intimate connection.” She chose her recital program to demonstrate some of the history of piano music. Chopin composed his Twelve Etudes, Op. 25, during one of the most fruitful periods of his compositional career. “It’s very visionary,” Rana says. “At the time, he was in Mallorca, Spain, recovering from an illness, and began having hallucinations. He was homesick, but never really wanted to go back to Poland.” These etudes mark an important point in piano technique, while carrying the listener on a musical journey from the first heartfelt etude to the tragic epilogue, Rana explains.
Two other works on the recital show off the piano as a symphonic instrument. The five movements of Ravel’s Miroirs are full of visual imagery. “Ravel orchestrated two of these pieces, but in all five, you can feel how he would have written for the orchestra. What he created in this set of pieces just with the piano is amazing.”
The Firebird gives the opposite perspective: Stravinsky originally wrote the work for orchestra, and it was later transcribed for piano by Guido Agosti, who Rana says was one of the most important Italian pianists of the last century. “When you have the orchestra as a reference point, there are some sonorities and timbre changes that are really challenging,” she says. “But at the same time, it allows even more freedom because you are the conductor of your own orchestra. I personally love this aspect of being a pianist.”