On August 24, 2016, Spanish musicians Ana Maria Valderrama and Luis del Valle performed at the weekly Dame Myra Hess Concerts held in Preston Bradley Hall of the Chicago Cultural Center. Like all Dame Myra Hess performances, this concert was also simulcast on WFMT.
La Pasionaria Violin Astounds
Ann Murray, Director of the International Music Foundation is a reliable booster for any of the rising stars that grace the Dame Myra Hess performances she curates. But today she seemed almost feverish.
“We’ve never had a rush like this!” Murray exclaimed with wide eyes, as she quickly rummaged through a wad of 100s-20s-10s-and 5s to find change for audience members clamoring to purchase “À mon ami Sarasate”, the debut CD by violinist Ana Maria Valderrama and pianist Luis del Valle.
It wasn’t just Murray who was excited. Passion permeated the hall.
Ana Maria Valderrama and Luis del Valle had just performed two of the pieces on this CD—Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso and Sarasate’s Zigeurnerweisen— along with Schumann’s Violin Sonata No. 1 in A minor.
CLICK TO WATCH AND LISTEN —YouTube video of Valderrama and del Valle playing Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso here.
Passion permeated the hall
At times, Ana Maria Valderrama flexed her torso during a crescendo, while Luis del Valle’s eyebrows squeezed in seeming ecstasy as he rolled his head towards her.
The duo had just enveloped the concert hall in a mood-packed musical journey.
We had wept and wailed around a gypsy campfire…
whispered soft words of longing… raced our chariots to victory,…
and most of all, met the composers anew as our long lost soulmates.
The audience, which had braved another rainy Chicago day to get to the concert hall, was enthralled with the very first notes.
Passions, and admiration at their amazing artistry, especially peaked near the conclusion of the Sarasate finale. Ana Maria Valderrama stunned with a seamless rapid fire left hand pizzicato seemingly simultaneous with bow.
Ana Maria Valderrama– Born to Music
We may have been witnessing what Ana Maria Valderrama’s oboist mother took stock of when Ana Maria was eleven years old. It was then that she decided to switch her daughter from viola to violin. Her mother realized Ana Maria needed an opportunity to play fast and to cover more notes.
Ana Maria Valderrama recounts, “We were a musical family. My mother, who is from Venezuela, and my father, who is from Spain, were both on vacation in Canada when they met at a street concert. They had been sitting close to one another– they met, they fell in love. My father, a jazz pianist, decided to audition at the Berklee College of Music where my mother was studying. He was accepted. They married in the States, and my sister was born there.
“We grew up with music all the time. Instead of reading books at night we did rhythms and songs. I started with piano when I was five years old. Because my father’s good friend was a violist, both my sister and I then studied viola.
“My mother tells me that as a child I never really liked the slow pieces. She said I like major keys and nothing sad. That’s why she thought a violin would be a better match.
“I like to do things fast..”
“Of course today I don’t just play fast notes, but I am naturally a nervous person and I like to do things fast. Especially when I was young, my father would say to us “Let’s practice!”. I’d always run to get my violin…
Young Ana Maria’s immersion in music and the violin was so complete that she can’t recall any time when she didn’t already know she was going to be a musician. There was only one possible detour, which was easy for Ana Maria to evoke the day we spoke during the Olympics. Her admiration for Simone Biles was fueled by her childhood turn at the sport. Ana Maria especially loved to do the mat routines. There wasn’t a Spanish gymnastics team, and it was an unusual sport to pursue. It was her violin teacher though, who cut that path short. She advised that the potential danger to Ana Maria’s wrist was too great.
Ana Maria Valderrama– First Spaniard to Win Famed Sarasate Competition
Like so many Dame Myra Hess performers, 31 year-old Ana Maria Valderrama’s musical pedigree has a long list of prior global performances, achievement milestones and awards in competitions.
Of particular note was a breakthrough moment when Ana Maria Valderrama debuted as a soloist performing Mozart: Violin Concerto No.3 with conductor Zubin Mehta at the celebration of the 70th birthday of Her Majesty the Queen of Spain.
Another milestone that has put Ana Maria Valderrama on the global music map was in 2011, when she became the first Spaniard to win 1st prize in the International Violin Competition Pablo Sarasate.
Musical Partners – Life Partners
Although Ana Maria Valderrama has traveled to American many times, this was her first trip to Chicago. Her itinerary after the performance was to travel to New York City to visit her sister, and then to return to Chicago for a proper tourist time to take in the city’s pleasures.
And yes, Luis del Valle is traveling with her because they ARE in fact married. Many audience members might have imagined this by the duo’s body chemistry during the performance.
Luis del Valle, in addition to performing with his wife, is a renowned chamber music performer. With his brother and fellow pianist Victor, he won the prestigious ARD International Music Competition in Munch in 2005. The two brothers released their first piano duo CD Impulse this year. His other collaborators include cellists Pablo Fernandez and Fernando Arias, with whom he has also made recordings.
…it is very intimate for us…
Ana Maria Valderrama recounts, “We met in the Reina Sofia School of Music. We were just friends studying together and at first we didn’t play together. Then we started going out, and at the same time playing together.
“Now, it is very intimate for us..
“We both like to analyze the music a lot and work with the score. First we do it alone, and then together. We discuss it. Sometimes we agree and sometimes we don’t. He might say ‘..It’s all six bars’, and I might say “No, it’s one plus five’. We keep talking until we arrive at the same idea in agreement. It’s then that we understand the piece in our way.”
“..We are emotional players…”
“..We are emotional players. It is important to us that the emotion will get to people and move their souls. This is the most important thing about music. We always want to get to that core of the music that touches peoples’ souls and moves them…Yes, these are all favorite pieces. But it doesn’t really matter what you are playing, so much as whether you are communicating with the audience…”
Communicating with the audience
Ana Maria Valderrama is also a violin professor at the Royal Conservatory of Madrid. She continues, “I always want to analyze what the composer wrote and then say it in my own words…But because instrumental music doesn’t have lyrics, sometimes it is hard of the players to know what the composer wanted to say or transmit. We can never know exactly what he was thinking or the story behind the work. But we can understand the harmonies, the phrasing, how it was structured. It’s a language with sentences and you can’t stop at the wrong point.
“..I always hope that I am able to show the language and the idea of the composer and put a little of myself in it too, and my own temperament…Specifically with Sarasate it is very bloodlike, very painful, and so suffering especially in the beginning– but at the end it is just a party.”
Communicate they did.
Stir our souls they did.
As the first Spaniard ever to win first prize in the famed Pablo Sarasate International Violin Competition, Ana Maria Vaderrama certainly knows of what she speaks. Listen to her elaborate (or read the subtiltes) and hear snippets of the Sarasate performance on her debut CD with husband and pianist Luis del Valle here—
Hear Valderrama Perform
For those who missed Ana Maria Valderrama and Luis del Valle’s performance, and for those who heard it or experienced it live and now have a ravenous appetite for more from this talented duo, click this link to read —Music from Valderrama and del Valle.
Upcoming Music Festivals in Spain
Click to read more about Ana Maria Valderrama’s thoughts on Spanish culture and upcoming cultural highlights in Spain in this coming year in Picture This Post’s Travel Feature- Spain Tour- Time it with Top-Notch Music Festivals.