SMU’s Joaquín Achúcarro marks 50th anniversary of his debut October 19th, 2011

Twenty-nine young pianists are busily practicing in Fort Worth this week, hoping to jump-start their careers with prizes in the quadrennial Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

Meanwhile, a venerated keyboard artist who’s been a Dallas presence for 20 years, teaching at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts, is enjoyed some fruits of a long career.

Photo Credit: David Woo/DMM

Marking the 50th anniversary of his debut, Spanish pianist Joaquín Achúcarro is being honored with a new foundation bearing his name. He’s also the subject of a forthcoming DVD that will include a new performance, with conductor Sir Colin Davis and the London Symphony Orchestra, of Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto.

In one of the Joaquín Achúcarro Foundation’s inaugural events, Achúcarro played a recital Sunday at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.

The new foundation will help recent Achúcarro students get recital dates and provide grants for continuing study and travel. It will also help underwrite master classes for up-and-coming students.

The idea for the foundation came from Dallasite Janet Kafka, an honorary consul of Spain.

“Joaquín to me represents one of the most powerful tools that we have in building relationships between Texas and Spain,” Kafka says. “He’s been here for 20 years, bringing students from every country of the globe to study with him at SMU. I wanted to honor that bridge that he has built between my hometown and Spain – and the world.”

Born in Bilbao, Spain, Achúcarro still calls the Basque city home. But he doesn’t spend much time there, thanks to playing some 50 concerts a season and teaching part time at SMU – and, in the summer, at the Academia Chigiana in Sienna, Italy.

Kafka developed ideas for the foundation with two of Achúcarro’s star protégés, Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung.

“I asked them, ‘What do young pianists need or want in the early years of their careers?’ First and foremost, they said, resoundingly, ‘We need opportunities to perform.’ “

Kafka immediately thought of Spanish consulates, which regularly sponsor musical performances.

“That’s a powerful tool I have,” she says, “to get an audience in the embassy’s name, to pick up a phone and do that with colleagues around the country. I can help the embassy celebrate Joaquín’s legacy as a Spaniard and the culture of Spain.”

In addition to helping book concert dates, the foundation already has given a career grant to one of Achúcarro’s protégés for a study trip to Spain, Austria and Italy. It has also sponsored three series of master classes at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.

The forthcoming Achúcarro DVD, on the Opus Arte label, will mark the 50th anniversary of his debut with the London Symphony, as winner of the prestigious but short-lived Liverpool Competition. The new performance of the Brahms concerto will be recorded later this month in the 18th-century St. Luke’s Church, in the London borough of Islington. The DVD also will include a solo recital recorded in one of the Goya galleries at the Prado Museum in Madrid, and an overview of Achúcarro’s career.

“If you believe in astrology,” Achúcarro says of this year’s combination of developments, “sometimes the planets are in a very good position. It’s especially so in this 50th anniversary year, so many things coming together.”

— Scott Cantrell, Dallas Morning News

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