María Dolores Gaitán, pianist, is the organiser and director of the Guadalquivir International Piano Festival, holding its 10th edition next year. Photo credits: María Dolores Gaitán.

Gaitán has become the first pianist to perform in all four UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Córdoba. Photo credits: María Dolores Gaitán.

María Dolores Gaitán: ‘We need to bring classical music closer to the people’

One of the leading pianists in Europe, Gaitán, from Córdoba, is the director of the Guadalquivir International Piano Festival, whose 9th edition was held in Córdoba, Villa del Río and Milan.

In 2010, at 27, María Dolores Gaitán (Villa del Río, Córdoba, 1983) established the Guadalquivir International Piano Festival at home. She wanted to bring classical music closer to the people by organising concerts in iconic venues. The festival then expanded to Córdoba and Milan, where Gaitán has lived for the past 11 years.

The 9th International Piano Festival was held in 2018. For the first time, one of the performances took place in the archaeological site of Medina Azahara, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since July.

Holding a master’s degree in Piano Performance and Chamber Music from the Milan Conservatory, Gaitán is among the most renowned musicians in Europe. Moreover, she has become the first pianist to perform in all four UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Córdoba and chosen by European Union National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC) as an ambassador of Spanish musical culture in Italy.

Gaitán is the recipient of numerous musical awards, including the 11th Città di Padova International Music Competition, the 16th Antonio Beltrami Award and the 7th Montichiari International Competition. She is about to release her first album under the title Imagen de España a través de la danza.

- You have organised the 9th Guadalquivir International Piano Festival, held in Córdoba, Villa del Río and Milan, just as you had organised the eight previous editions. Tell us about the 9th Piano Festival…

- This time, we wanted for the Festival to be a showcase of Córdoba’s heritage at the crossroads between the East and the West – how Muslims and Jews left their mark in Córdoba and in Medina Azahara. We also set eyes on Latin America through the prism of the universal language of music, of course.

We were lucky to host some of the concerts in iconic venues that have made the musical events look even more attractive. In fact, it was the first time a big festival had taken place in Medina Azahara!

For the 8th edition, I first succeeded in connecting the two cities I am attached to, Córdoba and Milan, and bringing the festival to one of the musical landmarks in Milan: La Verdi. These developments have turned the Festival into an innovative event, a trend-setter and a showcase of Spanish music for the world to listen to – including our country itself.

- How did you get the idea to organise an international piano festival?

- It was a very natural process. I was doing my PhD in Milan and many people talked to me about Córdoba’s poor music scene. This was the starting point.

Some time later, I applied for a position in Andalusia and was admitted. When I returned to Spain, I realised I just wanted to perform, to create, to be an artist. So I came back to Milan, but I felt nostalgic for the land where my roots were. So I had the idea to organise a festival where I could show the situation I was going through.

- What projects are you working on right now?

- I have been contacted to perform Nights in the Gardens of Spain with the Tambov Symphony Orchestra, from Russia, at the Rachmaninoff Festival 2020. It will be an important event, expected to make the most of Spanish music in Russia.

Also, I have just been told that my first album will be released soon by Amadeus Italy. Under the title Imagen de España a través de la danza, the album reflects my views of Spain’s greatest musicians as turned into body gestures in dance. Rhythm and movement are visually and acoustically associated with Spanish culture abroad. They are powerful images. I believe the album will be released in May 2019.

In May or June, I will play Béla Bartók with percussionists at the Mantova Chamber Music Festival, held in La Scala, Milan. And I am also working on the 10th Guadalquivir International Piano Festival, to take place in 2019.

- This year, you were short-listed for the Princess of Girona Award and won the award for best project for ‘3Tú’. What can you tell us about this prize?

- It all came as a big surprise! Carlos López Otín, winner of the Santiago Ramón y Cajal National Research Award in Biology 2008, whom I had met in a lecture in Italy, phone me and told me he had entered my name for the awards.

The foundation opened up a cultural management challenge that consisted in drawing people to a town through a cultural event. It was a project cut out for me! (Laughs) So I designed a virtual reality headset where tourists were shown a series of cultural events from unusual points of view – through the eyes of a technician behind the scenes, someone watching a show from the front row, a viewer in an art exhibition, and so on.

Thus, even if they are not there, tourists can get a glimpse of the town and its cultural life, and they are encouraged to visit it, spending time in it to attend cultural events. The project involved significantly innovative technology too. People liked it, and it won the award!

- When you took your first steps in music, did you ever think you would become one of the most prominent pianists in Europe?

- I did not have time! (Laughs) Having come this far is the result of hard work. You only have time to enjoy what you are doing when you are doing it. The building you are standing on now is the result of the foundations and structure you have built, brick by brick, throughout your life.

I have always had the concern that classical music is getting further and further away from the ordinary citizen. We need to find the way of making classical music sound not as an obsolete genre, with nothing to tell us. I have become the woman I am thanks to this relentless struggle (laughs).

- What is your view of classical music in Spain today?

- There is a certain quality to Spanish music that you can appreciate when you listen to Spanish composers or Spanish musicians performing other music. It is a certain kind of temperament, a sign of our identity. I am so proud of this, so proud that we have a national character, a strong identity as a country…

We need to innovate, though. We need to bring classical music closer to the people. But also, we are producing world-class musicians, performing all over the world. And we should be proud of this.