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New Zealand Herald

Team Cooks Up Musical Paella

By Phil Mitchell

May 15, 2003
Copyright © 2003
New Zealand Herald. All rights reserved. 

"As a young man growing up in a country ruled by a fascist dictator, I can tell you a career in music was not encouraged," says Spanish pianist Josep-Maria Colom. "But I lived in a house filled with music - my older sister Maria-Luisa played piano, and for me, learning piano was like learning to read or ride a bicycle. It was part of life."

Colom's grandfather died young, and his father had to leave school at 13 to work and provide for his family. "My father was an accomplished pianist, but had to work as a travelling shoe salesman to make ends meet. My aunt Rosita, who trained at the Conservatorio Superior Municipal in Barcelona, tutored my sister and I in piano."

A gruelling schedule from age 7 had young Josep attending school from 9 to 5pm, then an hour or two of homework, followed by up to three hours a day of piano practice.

"Rosita was a gifted musician and I suspect she wanted very much to be a concert pianist. But a married woman in 1950s Spain did not have a career. I suspect she was very frustrated by this. She was hard on me but I learnt well as a result."

Colom finished school at 16 to study full-time at the conservatorium, and was soon performing concerts and winning competitions.

At 25 he won a scholarship from the French Government and in 1972 entered the prestigious Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris.

"The chance to be tutored by the legendary Charlotte Causeret, who in turn had been a student of Ecole founder Alfred Cortot was a great privilege, and I wanted to share in that lineage," he says.

After graduating with distinction in 1974, Colom settled in Paris. Through the 70s he continued to give concerts and win competitions, including first prizes in international competitions in Jaen (Spain), Epinal (France) and the acclaimed Concurso de Santander competition in Spain.

The Le Monde review of his 1979 concert at the Theatre des Champs Elysees de Paris described "a performance that made one forget all others".

In the last five years he has performed in recitals and festivals such as La Roque d'Antheron and Le Chateau de Joinville et Bagatelle in Paris, the Chopin Festival in Poland, the Chamber Music Festival in Oslo, the Casals Festival in Puerto Rico and the Autumn Festival in Kyoto.

In Spain, he has played in all the major concert halls, in collaboration with most Spanish orchestras as well as a number of foreign orchestras.

"I play 40 to 50 concerts a year," says Colom. "Three weeks ago I performed a series of concerts in Barcelona, two weeks ago I was in Morocco, and now New Zealand.

"It's lucky I love to travel and my wife Carmen [also an acclaimed concert pianist] sometimes accompanies me. We occasionally perform together too, which is special."

He remains passionate about his music but not, he says, "with the obsessive, all-consuming passion of youth. My relationship with music is more mature now. I cannot imagine life without it; but there is more to life than playing the piano".

The NZSO-Colom teaming came about through German conductor Franz-Paul Decker, who was to have conducted the Friday programme but pulled out because of concerns over air travel. He is replaced by Christian Gansch. Decker, who has conducted the NZSO on a number of occasions, contacted Colom 18 months ago to suggest they put together a programme of Spanish classical music to be played with the NZSO.

Friday's Town Hall concert programme has been described as a "musical paella", with Ravel's Rapsodie Espagnole, Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain and El amor brujo, Turina's Rapsodia Sinfonica and Chabrier's Espana Rhapsody.

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