Jesús María Sanromá
An American 20th Century Pianist
By Alberto Hernandez
Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, Inc.
380 pages; $49.50 [paper] ISBN: 0-8108-6045-7
Book presentation: April 30, 2009
Guests panelists: Cherín Sanromá (daughter), Eva de la O, Thelma Itheir-Sterling, Alberto Bird, and Edgardo Díaz Díaz.
The event began with Dr. Hernández’ introduction to the life and times of the artist. Puerto Rican born Sanromá conquered American and European audiences with his amazing technique and masterly musicianship, especially in those new works from contemporary composers. He could hold an audience in awe with his uncanny interpretations of the most stringent and dissonant compositions from the likes of Stravinsky, Hindemith, Prokofiev, Bloch, Piston and others.
QUESTION: What motivated you to write this book?
Alberto Hernández: In the early 1970s I became a Sanromá piano pupil at the Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico, just after studying for several years with piano teacher Cecilia Talavera. Then, as a teenager, I knew that the pianist had been very well-known and had been rather famous, but at that point we did not realize the magnitude and scope of his American career that had begun in the 1930s through the 1950s. We became friends and I had the opportunity to play with him and at other times turn pages during his chamber music concerts in the island. A couple of years after his passing in 1984, Mrs. Mercedes Pasarell Sanromá asked me to assist her in organizing the music collection and papers of the maestro. It was many years later, while I was in Boston, that she asked me to write a book; the only reason I accepted the challenge was because there was indeed a beautiful story that has not been yet told to the newer generations of music lovers. After seven years of research in Boston, San Juan and Washington DC, and two years later I had finished the 16-chapter biography that encompasses basically his first fifty years, from his early days in Puerto Rico to his amazing career in the United States and Latin America, with an added brief summary chapter of his accomplishments after he moved to Puerto Rico in 1952. Sanromá was indeed a fantastic human being, a serious artists and a promoter of good music whenever he went, he was also known for his delightful sense of humor.
About Jesús María Sanromá:
Jesús María Sanromá was born in Puerto Rico in 1902 to Catalonian parents who had recently migrated to the island before the Spanish-American War. As a child, he demonstrated a musical inclination and soon was playing the piccolo in the school band of the township of Fajardo. Not satisfied with the small instrument, and after toying with the violin, he began exploring the pedals sound effects of an old French piano his father has recently repaired. The town’s piano teacher was soon was called to guide the child into the intricacies of the instrument and soon little Sanromá completed the entire piano method in six months. After much thought the family relocated to the capital city of San Juan and after a year he was awarded a government scholarship to master his craft. After studies with Sequeira and later with Madame Szumouska, Paderewski’s only pupil, at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, the pianist was hired by Serge Koussevitzky as orchestra pianist with the Boston Symphony to perform all the new contemporary musical scores that required a piano part. A few years later and after securing a leave of absence from the orchestra, Sanromá embarked on two European tours between 1927 and 1929. While on tour, he took master classes with legendary pianists-pedagogues Arthur Schnabel and Alfred Cortot. After a very successful Paris premiere of Toch’s Piano Concerto under Koussevitzky, he returned to the United States as a mature artist and veteran pianist. Sanromá’s regular New York City appearances with the Boston Symphony and chamber music groups made him a much sought after musician; composers began to specially request him to perform and record their music, including George Gershwin, Paul Hindemith, Walter Piston, Constant Lambert, Vladimir Dukelsky, Edward Hill, as well as Puerto Rican composers Jack Delano, Hector Campos-Parsi, and Amaury Veray. Among his statistics are: 3,000 performances in 21 different countries, 757 of these as soloist with 124 orchestras under 140 conductors playing 36 different piano concertos.
At the age of twenty-nine Sanromá made his first trip back home. The experience captivated him; he realized how he missed the people and the country. Their enthusiastic reception forced the pianist to make summer trips after the end of each symphony season. After the arduous concert tours around the United States and Latin America during Second World War and the advent of air travel, he soon started to consider making Puerto Rico his home base. In 1952, invited by the government of Puerto Rico to establish a piano department at the university, with his wife and four daughters, he finally settled in the island and started his second career as performer, teacher and cultural ambassador. Sanromá’s energy did not diminish, in the next years, he prepared entire concert series devoted to single composers Bach, Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart and Schumann, with the assistance of local talent. He also created a music conservatory, had his own radio and television programs, continued to record and travel abroad, and became an passionate advocate of the music of Puerto Rico, past and present. In 1984, a few months before his death, he recorded a tribute to Manuel Tavarez, a nineteenth-century composer known as the father of the Puerto Rican danza, the dance form that became a national musical symbol.