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Pianist pauses academic life to perform

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Pianist Sandra Rivers may have her home in academia but she gets a lot of chances to perform off-campus. In fact, her employer, the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, encourages Rivers to take advantage of performance opportunities.

Pianist Sandra Rivers will perform with Willy Sucre and Friends in Placitas and Socorro.

Pianist Sandra Rivers will perform with Willy Sucre and Friends in Placitas and Socorro.

Rivers certainly has. She’s worked with such luminaries as Itzhak Perlman and Sarah Chang, toured with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, appeared at the Mostly Mozart Festival and performed and taught at the Aspen Music Festival.

Two opportunities await her in New Mexico.

She will perform with Willy Sucre and Friends in Placitas on March 30 and in Socorro on March 31. Besides Rivers, violist Sucre’s other friends are violinists Krzysztof Zimowski and Julanie Collier Lee and cellist Joanna de Keyser.

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In both concerts, the ensemble will present Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet, Brahms’ Piano Quintet in F minor and Beethoven’s Sonata No. 30.

“How often do you get to play piano quintets? And to get to play two in one program is really special,” Rivers said in a phone interview from Cincinnati, Ohio.

“The Shostakovich is so draining emotionally. … It starts out in a Bach style and there’s his sardonic scherzo. The texture is so sparse but it’s difficult.”

Shostakovich was at the piano in the premiere of the work in November 1940 in Moscow with the Russian-based Beethoven String Quartet. That means, Rivers said, that at the time he wrote it he was in favor with the government.

“That must have been strange: The government is watching you. You have to please the government,” she said.

The Brahms has a curious history because it underwent several transformations. It started out as a string quintet, then Brahms reworked it as a sonata for two pianos and finally it was reformed and published as a piano quintet.

“I’m sorry that he destroyed the string quartet form but he destroyed work he didn’t think was good enough,” Rivers said. “I wonder how much amazing stuff we have missed because he didn’t think it was good enough.”

The concert opens with Rivers soloing in Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 30 in E major.

Rivers, a native of Manhattan, studied at the Juilliard School. She has been at the University of Cincinnati since 1991. A member of the keyboard faculty, she coaches chamber music players and works with collaborative piano and piano majors.


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