By Sue Wade
Along with “music,” one word would dominate any word cloud describing 35-year-old virtuoso pianist Rachel Naomi Kudo.
That word would be “passion.”
“When I say ‘passion,’” she explained, “I mean channeling composers and what they wanted. What I love about playing piano, especially now that I’m older and have some perspective, is how I can dive inside the world of composers through the window of each piece I play, and put myself in their shoes.”
This January, she’ll put on metaphorical dancing shoes to spotlight dance suites of different eras—waltzes, minuets, jigs, sarabandes, even a traditional German “Grandfather Dance” hidden between the lines.
The only professional musician in her family, Kudo began playing at the age of four, at her grandmother’s piano.
“My parents love music but had no idea what a pianist’s life meant,” she said. “They were happy that I was interested and have been my biggest supporters. But when I began to perform and eventually compete, they were driving me everywhere. It’s more complicated than training for the Olympics!”
Among many competition laurels, including the 2017 Cliburn competition, she took first prize in the 21st J.S. Bach Competition in Leipzig.
“There’s no such thing as being too old to compete,” the artist said. “But it’s easier the younger you are.”
After her grandmother, other teachers shaped her, including Joseph Kalichstein at The Juilliard School, Richard Goode at Mannes College of Music, Gilbert Kalish at Stony Brook University and Leon Fleisher at the Peabody Institute.
She speaks especially fondly of her Juilliard teacher Yoheved “Veda” Kaplinsky.
“She was my only female teacher, a motherly figure and incredibly supportive. When you find another woman who believes in you no matter what, you can’t put a price on that love.”
Her mentor’s influence continues to feed Kudo’s passion for reaching out to teach a younger generation of artists, whether children or master classes.
“Music can mean so much to kids who have nothing, to people in nursing homes. Even in concerts, music moves people and brings them together. People often come up to me afterward and say how moved they were. I’m so grateful to have this life as a musician and be able to share this amazing thing that really is bigger than any of us,” she adds.
While in Naples, she hopes to spark children’s interest in piano music during visits to Calusa Elementary, Spring Creek Elementary and Bonita Springs Elementary schools. Given her program’s focus on dances, she’ll likely surprise them with different composers’ very different takes on dance.
In concert, she’ll echo the Grand Piano Series’ goal of equal time for compositions that receive little play time, such as nearly all of the dance suites in her program.
“The Brahms Waltzes’ four-hand version is quite popular, but the solo version I’m playing is hardly ever seen in a concert,” Kudo said. “Bach’s French Suite, too, isn’t often played in recital. Pianists seem to lean toward Romantic works instead.”
But Romanticism also appears in the program, which concludes with a piece rarely played in recital: Robert Schumann’s sprightly Papillons, followed by the fantastical character pieces of his Davidsbündlertänze.
Rachel Naomi Kudo performs Jan. 9 at 3 p.m. at Moorings Presbyterian Church, 791 Harbour Drive, Naples, and again Jan. 11 at 7:30 p.m. at St. Leo Auditorium, 28290 Beaumont Road, Bonita Springs. Tickets may be purchased at www.grandpianoseries.org or 469-333-3231.
She will also perform Jan. 15 at 4 p.m. as guest artist for Camerata of Naples, performing Bach’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, at Moorings Presbyterian Church in Naples. Tickets may be purchased at www.tickettailor.com/events/camerataofnaples.
By Sue Wade