ELENA CASANOVA MUSIC
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by Alex De Grassi
From her first explorations as a toddler on a toy piano to her current passion for performing on grand pianos in concert halls, Elena Casanova has dedicated her life to music. Known equally for her spirited performance of both Latin American composers and the European masters, Elena also continues to expand her musical reach with forays into jazz and the captivating rhythms of her native Cuba. The late English composer and music writer Patric Standford cites Ms. Casanova’s “…undoubted technical command…” and ConcertNet.com says “…pianist Elena Casanova has provided us with a remarkable journey through music of past and present Cuban composers that have made an indelible impression upon her form, style and verve.”
Having graduated to a real piano ata age five, Elena began attending the Alejandro Garcia Caturla Conservatory of Music in Havana when she was seven. After hearing her first symphony, Beethoven’s Ninth, performed by the Sinfónica Nacional in Havana, she was so exhilarated by both the performance and the response of the audience that she immediately told her parents that she wanted to be a “concertista”. Her family left Cuba for California when she was 13, where she continued her musical studies at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and Pacific Union College, and ultimately graduating with a Bachelor of Music degree in piano performance from University of Redlands. Her teachers include Robert Bowman, Paul Glover, Annie Kim (a student of the Cuban pianist Jorge Bolet), Louanne Long, Maria D. “Marilola” (Vasquez) Robles, Tom Turinia, Daniel Glover, and Dr. Lynn Wheeler.
Her most recent recording, Ensueños de Cuba, features 44 very short piano compositions by 16 Cuban composers- each piece reflecting the highly rhythmic roots of Afro-Cuban music. Included are 16 selections composed for students by one of Casanova’s mentors in Cuba, Maria Matilde Alea. As Joel Thompson writes in a review of the recording for Cherry Grove Music Review, “The rhythms of this music that Casanova has so skillfully and passionately rendered may grab hold of your soul, allowing you to become Cuban for a while – the mark of a great pianist!” Elena herself states, “I gravitate towards the Cuban repertoire because it gives me such joy to connect with my roots as well as a certain freedom to interpret the music on my own. I also feel a responsibility to create greater awareness of this beautiful and important music that is too seldom heard outside Cuba.”
Elena’s first recording, Recordando (2005), features short piano compositions by four Cuban composers- Manuel Saumell, Ernesto Lecuona, Ignacio Cervantes, and Rene Touzét-whose collective works span the 19th to 21st centuries and a range of musical forms from contradances to orchestral works to cha-cha-cha performed by big bands. Fanfare Magazine says, “She plays throughout with style, sensitivity, and obvious enjoyment… cheerfully compelling.” Her second release, Fuente sin Igual (2008), was conceived as a gift to her father–an amateur pianist–featuring improvisations on his favorite Spanish hymns. Of that recording, Casanova says, “I discovered my ability to internalize music as a child, so my approach is very organic and intuitive.”
In addition to numerous solo piano recitals, Elena has performed as a soloist with orchestras throughout Northern California including Symphony of the Redwoods, the Ukiah Symphony, and Pacific Union College Symphony with a repertoire that includes Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, the Khachaturian Piano Concerto in D-flat major, Beethoven’s “Emperor” Piano Concerto No. 5, and Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major.
She has also performed in a variety of popular idioms with Grammy Award winning reed player Paul McCandless, Grammy nominated guitarist Alex de Grassi, and with recording artist and pianist Spencer Brewer on his annual Professional Pianist concert at the Mendocino College Theater, playing in genres ranging from tango to jazz and Brazillian bossa nova and samba. Ms. Casanova resides in Northern California where she and her husband-a physician and a cellist-have raised two children who are also musicians.
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