News | February 22, 2022

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Piano professor and protégé play Carnegie Hall on March 21

Concert to feature piano duets they recorded at FGCU

Contributors: Joanna Hoch, Photography

When Priscila Navarro played a solo recital at Carnegie Hall in 2013 she almost singlehandedly raised Florida Gulf Coast University’s profile in the classical music world. Now she’s returning to the hallowed concert hall for a four-hander with the professor-mentor who helped her reach that pinnacle of piano performance while she was still an undergraduate Eagle.

photo shows FGCU professor and former student
Priscila Navarro and Michael Baron recorded an album of French piano duets in August in FGCU’s U. Tobe Recital Hall.

Michael Baron, D.M.A., head of keyboard studies in FGCU’s Bower School of Music, will join Navarro in New York City for a March 21 program of music for two pianos featuring works they recorded together at FGCU for an album. As in 2013, a contingent of Navarro and Bower School supporters is traveling to the Big Apple to share the big moment. Ticket information for the Carnegie concert is available on the Bower School website; their FGCU recording, “French Music for Piano Duo,” can be heard on popular streaming platforms or purchased online as a CD.

“It’s really wonderful to kind of come full circle,” says Navarro, who as an undergrad enjoyed the support of the Myra N. and Van Zandt Williams Jr. Scholarship Fund, Charles Lussenhop and Kayetta Slocum Scholarship Fund and Steinway Piano Society Scholarship.

“So much has happened in the last 10 years,” Navarro says, including earning a doctorate in piano performance and pedagogy at the University of Miami. “I’ve gotten to do a lot more with my career. I’m also doing a lot of teaching and organizing my own piano festival in Peru. I’ve kind of found my own place in the world of music.”

Although she’s still participating in — and winning — international piano competitions, Navarro has risen to a level where she’s now often invited as a jury member. She has performed in major halls in the States, Europe, South America and China, with orchestras, in solo recitals and as a collaborator with other artists. The Peruvian native has returned to campus to perform almost every year since she graduated, and last August spent a few days recording selections by Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and others in U. Tobe Recital Hall with her longtime teacher and duet partner.

“We have played a great deal of repertoire over the years, but we wanted to choose some sort of theme for the CD instead of a hodgepodge of pieces,” says Baron, the Myra and Van Williams Distinguished Professor of Music. “We also wanted to record some pieces that were not too often recorded. While talking about many pieces we love, we narrowed this down to some that happened to be by French composers, and then followed through with an all-French program.”

photo shows FGCU professor and former student
“Being able to record here – we were both familiar with the concert hall and piano,” Baron said.

Playing duets presents certain challenges compared to solo or ensemble performances. The musicians have to be in sync on tempos and phrasing, for instance. If they’re slightly off, it’s much more noticeable than when other instruments are involved.

“We don’t just play notes and rhythms. We have to decide what we’re trying to say with the piece. Decisions you normally take on your own you take as a team,” Navarro says. “With Dr. Baron, when we started playing I was his student. So it’s a different scenario. I was just enjoying what he had already shaped over the years. It’s a legacy of his musical interpretation.”

In addition to their history together, they had the advantage of recording their intense daylong sessions in an environment that was familiar to them.

“One of the hardest things about being a pianist is going from piano to piano to piano,” Baron says. “A violinist or flutist takes their own instrument. But every piano is so different. Being able to record here – we were both familiar with the concert hall and piano.”

The album and the Carnegie concert are dedicated to his own mentor and frequent performing partner, Renato Premezzi, Baron’s professor at Beloit College in Wisconsin, who died recently.

“I was taking lessons with him as an undergraduate and was so inspired that it changed the trajectory of my life and career,” says Baron, who started at Beloit as an economics major. “I hope I can do that a little with my students.”

Navarro’s continuing success certainly proves that he has.