Frank Fernández, one of the most important pianists of the world, played the instrument for the first time when he was only four years old and soon he promised his mother he would never leave it.
Proud to have kept his word, critics recognize him as the maker of the contemporary Cuban school of piano, he is a symbol of the national culture and one of his most successful ambassadors.
Native of Mayarí, in the western province of Santiago de Cuba, Francisco Fernández Tamayo, name with which his parents baptized him, grants an inestimable importance to his childhood and to the influence that this one would exercise for the rest of his life.
Fernandez is an exceptional composer, music arranger and producer, and has captivated audioences of all the latitudes. He makes no distinctions between the educated music and the popular one, he only recognizes if it is good or bad, without giving the least importance to where it comes from.
In a lively dialogue he held with On Cuba, he spoke of transcendental moments of his life that have turned him into an icon of the culture of the Island.
You came very young to Havana, and being only 19 you make your debut with the National Symphonic Orchestra
Before my debut with the Symphonic I played some popular music and to explore these tones became an school for me that in little over two years allowed me to meet Gonzalo Roig, Ernesto Lecuona, Portillo de la Luz and José Antonio Méndez; and to accompany the great Elena Burke.
This was a sui géneris academy, without dogmas, based on the praxis, and that served me a lot for when I enrolled in the Amadeo Roldán Conservatory, where I had the good luck of finding Margot Rojas, great instrumentalist and pedagogue, pupil of Alexander Lambert, who was a disciple of Franz Liszt, considered the biggest pianist of the 19th century.
Thanks to her mastery and my dedication I was chosen among the most out-standing pupils of the academy and I was offered the possibility of playing with the National Symphonic Orchestra, an opportunity I used to premiere Choral Fantasy, Op. 80 by Beethoven.
This stage finishes when I won the First National Contest of Piano that the UNEAC organized, and a scholarship in the Tchaikovsky Conservatory of Moscow, one of the most prestigious of the world, where I studied the high level and graduated Summa cum laude.
What other moments marked your career as pianist
I remember four very important concerts for the relevancy of the context in which they took place and their consequences.
In 1984 I was invited to the opening of the Chamber Room of the Berlin Shauspielhaus, Germany, and I was chosen for the first concert of the “Great Masters of the Piano” Cycle.
The best thing was that where I thought I was to play Lecuona or Cervantes I had to interpret Mozart, Beethoven and Schuman with a tremendous success, the public applauded for nine full minutes, leaving an indelible memory in my mind.
Four years later I had the honor of being present at the Smetana Hall in Prague, to commemorate the centenary of the premiere of the Concert for Piano Number 1 of Tchaikovsky.
To my surprise the organizers decided that I was to be the soloist of the celebration, honor that I consider it goes beyond my person, because actually it was a recognition to Cuba and its culture.
Another memory that I treasure is my presentation in Tokyo in 1992. The concert was worrying me because in this city there is a score of events every night, including musicals, operas and ballet.
Hiro Hamada, critic of a recognized Japanese publication, who selects 10 principal cultural events of the year in this country, included my recital inside this select list, which was for me an extraordinary surprise.
Finally, last year I was present at the reopening of the Big Hall of the Conservatory Tchaikovsky of Moscow, where to play the piano it is always a big challenge and commitment, because it is strongest academy of the instrument in the world and because it is where I studied.
The Cuban school of piano owes very much to Frank Fernández
The transcendence of my years dedicated to teaching, it was to achieve that Cuba believed more in its pianists.
Up to the moment in which I begin teaching, all the international laureates like me had studied in the United States or Europe, and I put all my efforts into achieving, with very talented young pianists, that we could get equal results by soloists formed here.
Nobody believed that it was possible, but we could, and in prestigious contests several pianists as Víctor Rodríguez, Jorge Luis Prats, Leonel Morales, Elisa Pedroso and Ulises Hernández won major prizes.
Although many tried to clip my wings, I believed in the possibility of the Cuban to achieve big things when he dedicates itself completely to it.
On your compositions and discs
There is something paradoxical in my life as composer, the majority of my works, with exception of “Suite for two pianos”, it is musical for orchestras, where the instrument does not have a preponderant role, perhaps because the first opportunities that were given to me as creator were those of doing music for cinema.
I have written more than 600 works for different formats: ballets, choirs, symphonic bands and of camera, soloists, popular music bands and the television; and with some of them have recorded a score of discs.
Also I have taken part in approximately 250 recordings where I have accompanied people on the piano or as producer.
I have produced to the Cuban disc industry, among others, Days and flowers, by Silvio Rodríguez, and A Bayamo en coche, the first disc by Son 14, considered a paradigm within Cuba, and that survives like a reference in the libraries of Washington and New York.
The Five Concerts for piano byBeethoven
In these moments I am immersed in the recording of Five Concerts for piano by Beethoven, something never done before in Cuba and just few times in the rest of the world.
How would it like Frank Fernández to be remembered?
Like to a man who loved music, his family and his country, who at 68 is sure that he still has a lot to learn in life.
Arriving to this age makes you aware of the errors, but also of the marvels that remains to be discovered, and this is my determination while my strengths and capacity allow me: to look for a better music.