ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When pianist Elizabeth Joy Roe was growing up in Chicago, she and her sister sang Beatles duets.
Surrounded by a family that both loved and valued music, she began piano lessons at 6, winning Italy’s International Piano Competition at 13.
This weekend finds her moving from the Beatles to Barber in the latter’s piano concerto with the Santa Fe Symphony at the Lensic Performing Arts Center.
“The very first time I played the piano, I had this instantaneous connection,” Roe said in a telephone interview from San Francisco. “I saw it as a palette where you could create anything you wanted.”
Hailed as “brilliant” by The New York Times and “an artist to be reckoned with” by the Chicago Tribune, Roe has played with symphonies in St. Louis, San Francisco, Chicago and more.
In 2003, she stepped in at short notice to replace the late pianist John Browning in the Barber Piano Concerto with the Delaware Symphony Orchestra. She was still studying at The Juilliard School at the time. Barber had written the piece in 1962 specifically for Browning. In 2016 she replaced an ailing Olga Kern when the St. Louis Symphony performed the piece at Lincoln Center. The Pulitzer Prize-winning concerto is considered Barber’s masterpiece.
“There are lots of incredible connections with the piece,” Roe said.
“It’s not performed often because it’s very challenging both for the pianist and the orchestra,” she continued. “(Vladimir) Horowitz deemed parts of the last movement unplayable.”
The melodic middle section contains romantic echoes of both Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev, she added.