Roberto Plano started tinkering with a children’s keyboard not long after learning to walk. Now, he plays a grown-up piano around eight hours a day.
Plano joins the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater to perform Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54. His performance is bookended by Stravinsky’s Concerto in E-flat and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92, respectively.
But audiences shouldn’t expect the virtuosic pyrotechnics sometimes associated with solo piano. Recent piano soloist Alexander Gavrylyuk literally worked up a sweat banging out note after note in the Amphitheater. Plano said the Schumann he performs tonight is another kind of beast.
“It’s different than other concertos where everything is very obvious, flashy,” Plano said. “ith Schumann, the main purpose is to make music with the orchestra — piano, orchestra combining artistry together. The sole purpose is to make music, and I will try to do that.”
Plano’s visit to Chautauqua Institution is just a pit stop on a larger tour of the United States with his wife, Paola Del Negro, and three daughters tagging along. Plano will teach two master classes and perform a four-hands recital with Del Negro in addition to tonight’s performance.
Plano met his wife, also a professional pianist, while studying in Paris.
“I think I fell in love with her first, then with how she was playing,” Plano said.
At first, Plano said, his future wife spurned his advances because he was “too selfish,” having recently won a few competitions and letting it feed his ego. But, soon enough, she came around and realized she wanted to spend her life with Plano. He also admitted her criticism was probably accurate.
Both Plano and Del Negro have continued their piano careers. Splitting their professional lives between performance and teaching, the duo balances music with raising their children, two of whom are also pianists.
But Plano is quick to note he didn’t push his children toward piano — they just started hitting keys when they were toddlers and kept going.
According to Plano, two of his daughters, one 6 years old and another 8 years old, constantly ask their parents when they can compete in another piano competition. His youngest daughter, now 10 months old, is the only family member who hasn’t started tickling the ivories.
“It’s only a matter of time,” Plano said.
For all of his daughters’ zeal for piano, he said he does not hope they follow in his footsteps to become musicians. It’s a life “full of sacrifices,” he said. Ultimately, the choice is up to them, but Plano said he and Del Negro agreed music should at least be part of their children’s lives.
“We believe that it’s very important in education — being able to understand music,” he said. “This would be an addition to their life.”
Even so, he said over time he’s come to prioritize his personal life instead of obsessing over piano. There’s more to life than music, he said, and the music is better when you have your own life to inject.
“You understand that any musician cannot be a great musician if he doesn’t have a personal life as well,” Plano said. “That’s why I wanted to have a personal life full of people, full of children, full of surprises. Even if it’s more difficult to find the time to practice, it enlarges your life and your way of playing as well.”