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Camilo’s Pittsburgh debut goes from classical, jazz to world |

Camilo’s Pittsburgh debut goes from classical, jazz to world

Mark Kanny
Ingrid Hertfelder
Pianist and composer Michel Camilo

Some conductors have small repertoires, but Leonard Slatkin is an artist of countless enthusiasms — many of which he’s shared with Pittsburgh music lovers on his visits to Heinz Hall.

Slatkin champions new music. He champions American classic symphony repertoire. He even shed fresh light on Modest Mussorgsky’s piano piece “Pictures at an Exhibition” in the early 1990s by conducting it in orchestrations by other composers than the standard Maurice Ravel version.

He’s back this week with samples of current enthusiasms, including a pianist and composer whose aesthetic world encompasses classical, jazz and world music.

Slatkin will conduct the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, with composer Michel Camilo as piano soloist, at concerts March 14 to 16 at Heinz Hall, Downtown. The program features the local premiere of Camilo’s Piano Concerto No. 2 (“Tenerife”) along with music by Maurice Ravel and Paul Dukas. Camilo will be making his debut performing with the symphony.

The conductor says Camilo is one of the leading jazz pianists of any generation.

“Just on a technical level, if we look at the history of jazz pianists and use Art Tatum, who got around the keyboard like no one else, as a standard. Oscar Peterson would be in that tier. Camilo might be next on the list,” Slatkin says.

Camilo was born in 1954 in the Dominican Republic. He composed his first song at 5, joined his country’s National Symphony Orchestra at 16, and came to the United States at 23 to study at the Juilliard School in New York City, where his teachers included Jacob Lateiner.

Slatkin started working with Camilo more than a decade ago after hearing him at the Blue Note jazz club in New York. The way Camilo structured his music at the club led Slatkin, who was music director of the National Symphony in Washington at the time, to commission a piano concerto from Camillo.

“He’s a brilliant guy. We played (his first piano concerto) together many times,” Slatkin says. “It’s been played 200 times by other pianists who have taken it up, and it’s really hard. With such a success, I asked him to write a second one.”

Camillo’s Second Concerto, subtitled “Tenerife” (Canary Islands), was written in 2008 and is in three movements.

“My intention was to compose about its great majesty, reflect on the warmth of its people, and portray the vibrant light so full of contrasting texture and color I have always perceived there,” comments the composer in his program notes.

“I’ve conducted it a few times,” Slatkin says. “It’s very difficult, highly virtuosic and showy, tricky for the orchestra and tricky for the piano. It reflects more of his Latin roots. Much of his music is infused with the sound of the Dominican Republic. This one is a little more Spanish in its rhythms and use of melody.”

The second half of the concert is devoted to the music of Ravel, which Slatkin is recording with the Orchestra of Lyon in France. Two CDs have already been released, with another nine to follow.

Slatkin has put together four of Ravel’s orchestra pieces into a “symphony,” with fast outer movements, and a slow movement and minuet in the middle. “Bolero” will be the finale.

The Camilo concerto will not performed at the March 15 concert. Its place will be taken by a Behind the Notes presentation by Slatkin and the orchestra on Ravel’s creative process.

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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