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Douglas Riva:

A Passion for Granados

True recognition comes for some musicians not when they get their first prize or recording contract but when the neighbours take pleasure in all the endless practicing. Douglas Riva's neighbours near his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico have gone one step further and now coordinate their walks with his rehearsal times so that they may hear him, even though he freely admits he still plays the same phrases over and over to get the music just right.

His neighbours might well lean over the fence and beam approvingly. Douglas Riva is, after all, one of the world's most dynamic and meticulous interpreters of Granados, even compared to Alicia de Larrocha, with whom he produced the first critical edition of Granados' complete piano works, described by some critics as definitive. Of the 250 compositions included in this edition, 104 works were published for the first time and were discovered by Douglas Riva. For this reason, another important accolade falls to the American pianist: he is the only contemporaneous person to have played all of Granados' piano compositions at one time or another. Naturally, he is recording all of these works for Naxos.

Douglas Riva divides his time between Spain and the United States. He is presently enjoying the winter sunshine of New Mexico, his permanent residence, before he goes to Madrid. He also spends significant time in New York and relishes escapes to Villajoyosa, near Alicante, in Spain. Riva is as fluent a conversationalist as he is a performer and exudes warmth and passion throughout his person. He obviously enjoys life and has found music which reflects his inner self and with which he identifies completely.

His wife of 28 years, Karen Riley (an Arabic scholar and until recently a financial executive) shares his passion for Spain. "We are always eager to return to Spain. There is no other country like it-the vibrant cultural life of Madrid and the constant presence of the Mediterranean in Alicante are home to us. Even daily activities such are cooking and shopping in the markets for wonderful fresh foods and local wines are a constant pleasure."

"With my schedule we don't really take holidays. But we're lucky enough to be able to enjoy the best of daily life in Spain."

But the iron discipline of at least four hours practice each morning and no wine at lunch time continues even in Europe. Riva is dedicated to the music of Spain, which has become his spiritual and intellectual home. Such dedication was apparent even in his early years as a musician.

"I was ten when I began studying both the piano and the flute. However, I began my professional career as a flautist. At the age of 16 I was principal flautist of the El Paso (Texas, USA) Symphony. Naturally, it was a great responsibility, and I was the youngest member of the orchestra. It was also a superb opportunity for me as a musician. Perhaps more important than anything else that I learnt as a member of an orchestra was how to follow a conductor. As a soloist, that has really helped me; many pianists don't know how to follow a conductor. However, after one season I left the orchestra. My two teachers at the time, pianist William Masselos and flautist Albert Tipton, each advised me that I had to give up one instrument (naturally, not the one I was studying with them). It was very good advice. But there was never any question for me. I knew it was only the piano that I wanted to play."

Riva became fascinated with Spanish music early in his studies, after being captivated by a performance of Alicia de Larrocha playing Albéniz's Triana. While in school he managed to study the music of nearly every Spanish composer except Granados, but soon after he finished his degrees at New York's Juilliard School he found his life's calling. He began to study Granados and was overwhelmed with the beauty of the music. Through contact with Alicia de Larrocha, he discovered that Granados had made numerous changes in his works after he published them. Fascinated, Riva set out to learn the composer's true intentions and immersed himself in the study of his music.

As the recipient of a grant from the Beebe Fund, Douglas Riva went to Barcelona in 1980 to study at the Academia founded by Granados. His aim was to investigate Granados' manuscripts, which were located in the family archive of the composer's daughter Natalia. His research led to the discovery of a vast number of unpublished pieces, many of which he premiered at the request of Natalia Granados. His discovery has had a lasting effect-twenty years later, it has brought public attention back to Granados through the publication of the first critical edition of Granados' complete piano works and the recordings of the complete piano works for Naxos.

Riva has planned the repertoire lists of the Naxos Granados series so that each CD includes recordings of previously unrecorded pieces. Riva recently released Volumes 5 (Naxos 8.555325) and 6 (Naxos 8.555723) of the Naxos Complete Granados Piano Music, eagerly awaited by critics and the public.

"I truly look forward to going to London to do these recordings," says Riva. "We record in a first class location, a wonderful church, St. Martin's in East Woodhay, near London. Although I have lived for many years in New York and now in Madrid, London is unbeatable in many ways, such a human city. All in all, I enjoy recording as much as I like public performance. They're both equally engaging."

"I loved working with John Taylor, my producer at Naxos, on this series. He's an expert psychologist as well as a consummate musician and knows when to push me and when to give me a rest. We have a wonderful relationship. John makes me feel at ease doing these recordings."

Riva has performed widely, at Carnegie Hall and the White House for example, and he pops up literally all over the world, wherever audiences require Spanish music, especially the uniquely soulful, romantic music of Granados. In 1996 he presented a critically acclaimed cycle of concerts in homage to Granados on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the composer's death, including the world premiere of 27 works at the Juan March Foundation, Madrid. During a concert tour of Brazil, he was chosen to inaugurate a new concert hall--"Sala Fernando Coelho" in Belo Horizonte.

For Riva, his mission continues onward.

"Granados is still to be discovered by so many. A great disappointment is that he did not write a piano concerto. But his operas and orchestral pieces are gradually being brought to the public's attention. No composer is inexhaustible, but in Granados there is enough for a lifetime. And what a life you can have if you identify with the man to a certain extent. His music is immensely rewarding."

In his recordings, Riva brings an equally immense understanding, joy, exuberance, and intimacy to the music of Granados, fruits of a devotion which finds few parallels.

Interview written by Dr. George Adams. The article is the property of and may not be republished without permission.


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