ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In 1994, acclaimed pianist Awadagin Pratt took one look at the Sandias and moved to Albuquerque.
It was the same year he made his debut at Lincoln Center with the New York Philharmonic.
His career jump-started in 1992 when he became the first African-American pianist to win New York’s Naumburg International Piano Competition. He went on to play at the White House and in engagements across the United States, Europe, South Africa, Israel, Colombia and Japan.
Pratt remained in New Mexico until he accepted a position as both assistant professor of piano and artist-in-residence at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music in 2004. He kept a house here until 2006.
“I missed (New Mexico) more when I had a place there,” Pratt said in a telephone interview from Cincinnati. “I miss the beauty of the place, the weather. On the other hand, I love what I’m doing here.”
Pratt will return to Albuquerque on Saturday to perform the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 and the Gypsy-flavored Hungarian Dance No. 6 at Popejoy Hall with the New Mexico Philharmonic. In celebration of its fifth season, the orchestra will play Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
The Brahms “is probably my favorite concerto,” Pratt said. “It was the concerto I played during my time at Naumburg.”
The 25-year-old composer wrote the 45-minute piece in 1858 under soap opera-worthy circumstances. Brahms was a close friend of both Robert and Clara Schumann.
In 1854, Robert Schumann was committed to an asylum after a suicide attempt.
“He was in love with Clara, so it was a very conflicted situation,” Pratt said. “It was full of the energies and passion of a young man. Schumann was his mentor. He was frustrated at not being able to consummate his love of Clara.”
The concerto’s classic symphonic scale structure emulates the concertos of both Mozart and Beethoven.
“You have to play every note with meaning,” Pratt said. “There’s the level of musicianship required to have an interpretation that’s cohesive. The slow movement is very emotional and psychologically deep.”
Pratt came to New Mexico after winning at Naumburg, knowing he finally had the funds to live wherever he wanted. “People started talking about how wonderful New Mexico was,” he said.