Contents of CD

From Anita to Ana

Producing the CD

Cervantes Bio

Cervantes’ Concert Tactics

Corrections or additions?

Ana Cervantes’ CD Debut

This story by Elaine Strauss was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on January 27, 1999.

All rights reserved.

Atypically, pianist Ana Cervantes has scheduled no

central New Jersey concerts for the near future. The Roosevelt resident

is here all right, teaching 35 students at Hightstown’s Peddie School,

as well as her private students, faithfully practicing, and taking

time out to leaven her work at the piano with the well-timed stint

on her Nordic Track machine. However, she has been so fully occupied

with her first CD, a self-produced recording, that she hasn’t had

time to tend her career, a self-managed enterprise, by scheduling


Now Cervantes’ debut CD, "Amor de la Danza/Love of the Dance,"

captures the passion and intelligence of her pianism. Released in

December, the album is available in Princeton-area music stores and

other outlets ($17). In the moments of respite since its appearance,

Cervantes thinks that a new step in her evolution will be to delegate

some of the work of arranging for concerts to professional management,

and she is currently shopping for an agent.

The artist plays some music from the CD and talks about the recording

process at Encore Books in the Princeton Shopping Center on Friday,

January 29, at 7:30 p.m.

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Contents of CD

"Amor de La Danza" is inspired by the movements, rhythms,

and spirit of the dance. The earliest piece is a Pavane by the 16th-century

composer William Byrd; the latest is a set of 12 Cuban dances by Joaquin

Nin-Culmell, a composer who turned 90 in September. The Nin-Culmell

dances and Johann Sebastian Bach’s Partita No. 2 in C minor are the

largest pieces on the recording. The recording also includes a reading

of the e.e. cummings poem, "I carry your heart with me," followed

by an interpretation of the poem for piano by Princeton area composer

Olga Gorelli, whose pieces often find their way onto Cervantes’ live

programs. Also featured is a sonata by the 18th-century Spaniard,

Sebastian de Albero, and "Sunny’s Game" by the 20th-century

Argentinean, Astor Piazzolla. The Albero and Gorelli pieces were recorded

live during a performance at Princeton’s Unitarian Universalist Congregation

in February, and the other works were recorded later at the same site.

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From Anita to Ana

Interviewed by telephone from her home in Roosevelt, Cervantes talks

volubly about making the recording. Better known to area concert goers

as Anita Cervantes, she says she recently decided that "it is

time" to use her given name, Ana, rather than the diminutive form

she acquired in childhood. Her account of making her first solo recording

illuminates an intensely personal experience that turned up opportunities

for introspection at every corner. An expansive person, Cervantes

reveals her intimate observations with gusto. When I observe that

she has a gift for talking off the top of her head, she says, "Just

put a glass of wine in my hand and I could go on all day."

There were no artistic surprises in making the recording, she says.

"I felt ready artistically. I had been playing and performing

the music for a long time. It was a part of me and I felt very at

home with it. But I learned a tremendous amount about the process

of making a recording."

A major obstacle for Cervantes was seeing performing and recording

as distinct activities. "I had to come to terms with philosophical

questions about recording," she says. "I’m such an inveterate

live performer, the main thing I learned was that I had to distinguish

between recorded music versus live music. It was a real issue for

me. If you’re really a performer, you get yourself out in front of

an audience. That’s your job. With the recording I was struggling

with post-production editing and splicing. I knew that some editing

would be necessary, but I was having trouble with it. I was worried

about artistic integrity. There was some part of me that felt I was

not presenting myself truly if I modified what I played at all. I

solicited the counsel of friends. All of them said, `You don’t want

to go out there with a product that’s not superior artistically.’

Brad Garton, who wrote the liner notes said, `Forget thinking that

recording is some representation of a live performance. You perform

these pieces compellingly all the time, but this is something different.’"

Another issue Cervantes had to put to rest was her reliance

on an audience for energizing a performance. "I was afraid that

in recording I would lose my sense of connection to the audience,

which nourishes me when I perform. In a funny kind of way, though,

I felt very connected to the music and to an abstract, intangible

listener out there while I was recording." She realized that recording

for an unseen audience is similar to playing music in solitude. "I

feel that even when I’m playing alone there’s always an ensemble partner,

which is the music."

Noting that the entire album, both concert and studio performances,

was recorded in an "acoustic" venue, the Unitarian Universalist

Church of Princeton, she says she finally reconciled live and recorded

music making.

"The sound of the CD was one of the factors that contributed to

making my peace," Cervantes continues. "If you pay attention,

you can hear crackling and room sounds on the recording. A realization

I had about myself as a musician was that part of my commitment to

live performance is a commitment to all that goes with it. Sometimes

there are non-musical sounds. When you hear a guitar, you hear the

sounds of the instrument, the fingers hitting the fingerboard —

it gives a feeling of intimacy. I love that. With CDs there’s a cult

of perfection having to do with both sound and note-perfect performance.

One of the things that reconciled me to editing the CD is that I don’t

buy into that cult of perfection. In fact, perfection can take away

from immediacy and intimacy. Probably there are one or two wrong notes

on my recording, and I don’t care."

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Producing the CD

Cervantes vividly recalls the production details. "Our first recording

session was on the hottest day of July. I wanted to record in the

Unitarian Church. I love the sound there, and they have a good piano.

The building is all wood and glass, and it began to react to the heat.

It reacted audibly by making creaking and crackling sounds. John Baker,

the sound engineer, and I talked about what to do about this. I decided

I just can’t bend myself in half to get rid of sounds that are part

of the natural environment. So we left in the building noises, just

as you would leave in some audience noise in a live recording; you’d

have to be listening for those sounds to hear them. I liked that.

"Both live and recorded music come under the aspect of communication.

Making music is an act of love, not an act of conquest or of proving

yourself. It’s a love of the music, the instrument, and the audience."

With one CD now on the market, Cervantes has already made tentative

plans for the next. To be called "Many Voices, One Piano,"

it will consist of contemporary music from the United States and Mexico.

"I have been spending a lot of time in the last year and half

working with Mexican composers," she says, "and I’ve fallen

head over heels in love with that music. Partly it’s purely personal

and partly it’s artistic. I’m half Mexican, and half North American.

It gives me a nice feeling to make a general manifestation of my personal

identity and the mixture of my heritage."

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Cervantes Bio

Cervantes, 47, was born in Washington, D.C., the daughter of a Mexican

father and a mother from Nebraska, who met in the nation’s capital

in the 1940s. She does not know of any family connection to the author

of "Don Quijote," although she now incorporates the Don’s

name into her E-mail address.

English was the language of Cervantes’ childhood, though she has become

fluent in Spanish. "My first foreign language is French,"

she says. "My father, like many immigrants, didn’t want to speak

Spanish in the home. It’s unfortunate. Speaking only English leaves

kids without any connection."

"My whole family was musical," Cervantes says. "My mother

was an accomplished pianist. I grew up playing her seven-foot Steinway

that I have now. My father was also a pianist; one of his brothers

sang and danced. My Mexican grandmother sings — all Mexicans sing.

It’s a stereotype, but all that stuff is much closer to the surface

in Mexico than in the United States. There was a lot of artistic activity

in my father’s family even though they didn’t have two pennies to

rub together."

Cervantes is the only surviving member of her immediate family. "I’m

an orphan," she says, somewhat ruefully. Her only sister died

in 1997; her mother died within the past year. "There’s a way

in which my CD is for my mother," she says.

After graduating from high school, Cervantes says, "some obscure

impulse prompted me to go to Mexico, and I smelled Mexican air for

the first time in 1969. "When I went that first time, I was very

young, and I was enchanted. I remember most of all the affection of

the people, the light, and the colors. I didn’t go back again until

1996. In 1997 I visited Guanajuato, my father’s birthplace, for the

first time. It’s in the mountains 250 miles north of Mexico City,

and it’s very beautiful. The visit was significant.

"My only sister died very suddenly in early 1997," she continues.

"After she died, my impulse to reconnect with Mexico became extremely

strong. I had already started playing increasing amounts of music

from Latin America. Personally and artistically, the whole Mexican

thing had collected a huge amount of energy. The past year has been

a time of tremendous contact with Mexico for me."

Cervantes earned her bachelor’s degree in 1973 at Bard

College, a liberal arts college in New York’s Hudson Valley. "I

didn’t want to go to a trade school, a conservatory," she says.

"I was interested in literature. Going to a conservatory is not

necessarily a recipe for being narrow, but it can end up that way.

And a one-directional focus can really sabotage you as musician."

She hunts up a quotation from pianist-composer Ferruccio Busoni to

reinforce her point: "A great artist has to be extraordinarily

intelligent and cultured. He has to have a thorough musical and literary

education. He has to have character, too. If one of those things is

missing, it will be apparent in the performance of every phrase."

Cervantes likes to quote the entire Busoni essay, even to her younger

Peddie students. "They get it," she says.

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Cervantes’ Concert Tactics

She also likes to reach out verbally to the audiences for whom she

performs. "I don’t mean a lecture-demonstration, but I want to

lead the audience into the music." This sometimes leads to animated

exchanges with the audience. Cervantes remembers being chastised by

an audience member for saying she approves of applauding between movements.

"It was not until the late 19th century that audiences got intimidated

out of applauding when they felt moved to do so," she says. "But

you have to trust an audience, not tie their hands to their chairs.

People who don’t go to concerts often are nervous because they don’t

know when to applaud. I tell them, `Don’t worry. You’ll know when

to clap.’ If they’re not inhibited, audiences will clap after the

first movement of the Bach Partita on the CD. They’re out of their

seats with excitement. But nobody claps after the Sarabande. It’s

so tender. People just want to draw a deep breath and cry a little.

Audiences shouldn’t feel they have to clap. They should also feel

free to remain silent. Sometimes it’s nice to be with the end of a

piece for a time."

Cervantes’ desire to avoid restrictions on applause is part of her

desire to avoid categorization in general. "A big part of me as

an artist is to get away from labels and niches," she says. "When

people ask what kind of music I play, I say that I play what it turns

me on to play, what reverberates within me. I have a fairly diverse

audience. I have friends who are rock and roll musicians who come

to hear me play Bach. He has such good bass lines. All good rock and

roll musicians like Bach. I don’t want to play for a mink coat crowd.

I want people in Dead-head T-shirts at my concerts. Music is about

inclusion. It’s the urge to communicate. How can you possibly set


Cervantes makes a point of including contemporary music within the

boundaries of her concerts and values the chance to work with living

composers. Working in California with Joaquin Nin-Culmell she says

"there was a spot in one of his Cuban Dances where it seemed to

me that the music should suddenly broaden, as if someone was walking

more slowly. He said I could slow down even more. Nothing was shown

on page. It showed me that my initial instinct was 100 percent correct.

Now the experience of working with Nin-Culmell has become an inseparable

part of my working on the music of Bach and Schubert and Mendelssohn.

"You have to trust your instincts and go further than the printed

page. Maybe that’s the really important lesson of working with living

composers. Not only are you playing what’s in the score, but you’re

cultivating your imagination by asking, `What could he be trying to

tell me to do here?’"

Poetry enters into Cervantes’ musical approach. "Poetry is another

kind of music," she says. "I’m thinking of poetry on a strictly

sonic level. When the poetry is in foreign languages, I tell people,

`If you don’t know the language, just listen to the sounds.’"

In her next major concert, poetry may be an important theme. "I

want to do a big gangbuster performance of music and poetry,"

she says. "I think I’ll call it `Songs of Love and Desperation.’

It’s in the works in my head right now. But I’ve been too busy with

the recording and making a living to work out the details just yet."

— Elaine Strauss

Ana Cervantes, Encore Books, Princeton Shopping

Center, 609-252-0608. With composer Olga Gorelli. Free. Friday,

January 29, 7:30 p.m.

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