SEPTEMBER 2019 | Concerto and Camera: Cecilia Pillado in conversation with Ray Picot

SEPTEMBER 2019 | Concerto and Camera: Cecilia Pillado in conversation with Ray Picot

Cecilia Pillado started her artistic journey as a concert pianist in Argentina, drawing plaudits from luminaries like Martha Argerich, and now living in Germany, has also become a successful actress, film producer as well as running her own record label. She has also met the Dalai Lama. I talked with this multi-talented and charismatic artist about her life and her latest project, a recording of film music.

Ray Picot: You have just released a recording of you playing music associated with films and Hollywood., which gave you the opportunity to merge your two professions, musician and acting. What inspired your choice of music? 

Cecilia Pillado: I just had to remember which music or melodies remained in my head after watching a film and leaving the cinema, so I could go to my piano and play them by ear, and these film themes were my choice for my newest EP Hollywood. I experienced such an impact with James Horner’s Titanic music, Justin Hurwitz’s La La Land theme, Vangelis’ Chariots of Fire and so on. But it is also the visual impact of these films or the combination of both, music and images, what had such an effect on me, for example Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet is such a colourful movie that I still “see” in my imagination those scenes, e.g. the party scene, and hear the music in my head.

For this project, the recorded tracks are combined with videos where I not only explain track by track, something related to the films and their music, but I also play the themes, not just to show that I can play piano, but to let the listener connect with the films through a characterisation using outfits and looks that relate to the aesthetics, atmosphere or style of each film. Instead of creating an acting role I created an approach to the film and its music. That is actresses' thinking! That’s why I say this project let me merge my two professions, actress and pianist. I play music and at the same time I create something visual.

RP: I doubt that academia was supportive of such distinctive alternative career choices as you made, so how did you go about it? Was it easier doing it in Germany rather than at home in Argentina, as perhaps the public is less inclined to prejudge you? 

CP: I had absolutely no problems with my artistic choices. Of course there are some individuals who laughed at me and criticised me: how dare someone who plays Ginastera’s First Piano Concerto approach film music! Most of them were, in fact, Argentineans. And it’s been in Argentina where I got more criticism then in Germany in the past, you are right, they are more inclined to prejudge in general, not only me. But besides that, the press has reviewed my new releases very positively.

RP: You have developed a wide range of professional interests - concert pianist, composer, record company owner, actor and film director. I hope I’ve not missed anything. These are all creative but you must need an incredible amount of self discipline and commitment to achieve a good level of personal and critical satisfaction. Most professionals avoid listening to the critics but sometimes it must be hard, when you’ve poured so much effort in.

CP: Oh yes, but I'm a film producer as well, not a director, since I am developing a film project as a creative producer. Of course this film has a strong connecting to music (and tango) And yes, I have a lot of self discipline and commitment with all my artistic projects. The alternation of these activities is what keeps me fresh when it comes approaching the other. I had times in the nineties where I practiced piano a lot, and then I stopped and went to Los Angeles and attended all those acting workshops, and after that I got roles in television and films, which was like a liberation from that life of only practicing piano. I got more balance in my personal life being an actress, frequenting other circles of people and having new experiences. It was a personal gain for my life.

RP: Each profession requires 100% commitment and near perfection otherwise the critics will be merciless and the audiences will not come. Presumably you mentally switch one on and another off so you can achieve your goals? 

CP: Yes, I switch between them. But I don’t think that I already have achieved all my goals. I’m very proud of what I have achieved until now. I have never expected to become a professional actress… in Germany! And to be the first Argentinean pianist who recorded so much Argentinean piano music and the second (first was Arminda Canteros) who plays Tangos in a concert hall. I think, in the one life you have, you are always on the way, learning things as a human being and in my case as an artist, exploring new ways of expression, collaborations, always growing and developing. Sometimes you want something and it never happens, sometimes things happen all by themselves. Do you know the BBC TV Series from 2013/14 The Wrong Mans?

RP: What do you enjoy from the different professions you follow?

CP: Giving autographs (joke). Well, as a pianist I do enjoy it a lot being on stage. The moment of a concert is unique, magical, and always different. Not only recitals, also the moment of sharing music when I play chamber music or with an orchestra. I love recording studios too and all the process of recording music. And as an actress, I enjoy a lot the moments of shooting a film. Since I come from a large family I feel very comfortable around the film crew. And then I have the opportunity to go into another character and be another person. That helps me to forget about myself.

RP: With all this going on, how to achieve a good work-life balance?  Music and drama often go hand in hand at schools but as one specialises usually something suffers. How did you approach the challenge after you achieved your goal as a professional pianist?

CP: Who told you that I achieved my goal as a professional pianist? I am always on the way! As I told you before, I made my further training as an actress when I had already left the university, so I was completely free for my choices. My piano repertoire would be bigger, I would have practiced more hours, if I wouldn’t have chosen that way. But I don’t regret. I feel centred and balanced with two artistic fields

RP: Tango Malambo is a strongly evocative name for your record label and but one which surely resonates with anyone interested in tango music. Having your own label must give you artistic control over your releases but then the pressure is on you to get the right music to your audience.

CP: The words Tango and Malambo refer to two fundamental elements of Argentinean culture: Tango is the well-known dance, which is accompanied by the music from the metropolis of Buenos Aires. Malambo is a Gaucho dance with fiery rhythms, which represents the country’s folkloric music. This was the title I gave to my first CD I produced at a time when nobody knew Argentinean Classical Music (1995). The title of this CD remained for my Label. It was an Argentinean compilation of the most representative piano music from the country with works by Ginastera, Guastavino, Ramírez, Piazzolla and my own composition Malambo percu-piano. All those tango and Piazzolla recording projects of Gidon Kremer, Barenboim or Yo-Yo Ma came later. I’m sorry, but I have been the pioneer with this repertoire. And guess what is happening now? My little EP Hollywood is just released and in two weeks (as I write) Anne-Sophie Mutter will be playing film music in Munich with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. I don’t know if the EP is the right music for my audience, but I have the first statistic results and it seems that younger people like it a lot. That means my audience is expanding.

RP: What lead you to set up the label and how did you develop your catalogue? Did you ever think of releasing other artists’ recordings?

CP: After my studies I started to produce my recordings on my own, with the primary aim to make my Argentinean repertoire, which is my specialty, known and accessible to the public. Then I licensed my recordings first to Berlin Classics in 1998/1999 and to Sony Classical in 2007, but I decided to focus on having my own music label to have more control and freedom over the repertoire I want to play. I am also very proud of releasing music of other artists and of helping them have a public place to get noticed. The Brazilian Classical Song by Katia Guedes (Soprano) and Evelyn Ulex (Piano) is a unique and excellent recording. The works by composers Adriana Figueroa Mañas or Pablo Aguirre are also very interesting.

RP: Your label carries the strap-line “The New Classical”, which is an interesting concept.

CP: It used to be: “Best Address for Argentinean Music” but things have changed. It is difficult for me to explain in few words what my label is about….maybe… Tutti Frutti! Why not. We have Ginastera, Guastavino, but also academic tangos, universal tangos, popular tangos, Mister Piazzolla, contemporary music, my compositions, etc., and now film music and a Paul McCartney’s track arranged for piano….

RP: Business in Germany must be quite different to your native Argentina- how did you find the change? Setting up afresh must have been a challenge in a new country? How were you received?

CP: I was relatively young when I came to Germany, 21 years old. And at that age you have no idea what life it is all about, so I would not call it starting a life afresh. I just moved on. I came to continue my musical studies and I can say that it’s been an enormous pianistic and artistic enrichment, not only because I could improve my technique and musical knowledge, but also because I got so much inspiration from great artists I could meet like Martha Argerich, Daniel Barenboim, Claudio Abbado, Sergiu Celibidache. And all those master classes I took with great European teachers like Maria Curcio, Pierre Sancan, Hans Leygraf, Alfons Kontarsky. I learned a lot about technique and classical styles. Great time. And then I could develop a little career as a soloist, so I would say Germany treated me very well. I received good reviews from the German press.

RP: To break into acting and television must have been hard for a complete newcomer. 

CP: But I didn’t have the pressure to become a star. There are so many roles and possibilities to be part of a cast. I think the classical music business for soloists is much harder, absolutely.

RP: I saw online that you met the Dalai Lama. How did that come about?

CP: I met the Dalai Lama twice in my life. While I was a student, I was a holder of a scholarship of the German Foundation “Friedrich Naumann” a former freedom thinker. But after my studies the foundation took me into account for its events, until today. In 1994 they invited the Dalai Lama to Berlin, to give conferences and talk in political panels about the situation in Tibet, so they invited me to be the musical part of the event’s program. I played for him (and everyone there) at the huge hall of the Free University Berlin and when we were leaving the place he took my hand and expressed with moving words his thanks. In that moment someone took a picture without I noticed it. That was such a magic moment! Because after several months I was given a recital at the Ibero-American Institute Berlin and after the concert a woman came to my artist room with that picture of me with Dalai Lama she had taken that day, and gave it to me. And then, two years later he came to Berlin again and I went to him with the photo and he wrote those Tibetan words on it. This was all about magic. I am so thankful that I had the experience of playing for Dalai Lama and meeting him personally. And now I have the wonderful pic with us and his words on it.

RP: You were born in Argentina and still have many friends there. What do you take from visiting Argentina now you are in Germany?

CP: It is always a pleasure to visit Argentina and the place where I was born, Mendoza. There you have continuous sunshine and I love that, since I miss sunshine in Germany. That is why I love to visit the country in summer, when it is winter in Europe and spend time with friends. Mendoza is the best wine region. My Italian ancestors (Calise, from Ischia) built one of the first wineries in that region. In December 2017 I came over as a Berlin Music Ambassador - I got that honorary title from the Berlin Music Commission - to give concerts in Buenos Aires after 20 years absence. Now I am happy to be connected with that city again. Its government gave me also another honorary title: “Vocero de Buenos Aires” to represent the city in Berlin, since they have a twinning agreement. I am coming back for concerts in December 2019, so I am very proud to be a cultural link between Germany and Argentina.

For more information on Cecilia Pillado, her recordings (also available on itunes) and filming activities you will find the following links useful:



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