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January 31-February 7, 2007

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Chetan Tierra

Photograph by Marge Brown
Enlightened one: Chetan Tierra advances the family legacy.

The Prodigal Talent

Fresh from his Carnegie Hall debut, Chetan Tierra returns home for a solo recital

By Scott MacClelland

The name Tierra is nothing new to Santa Cruz music. Indeed, it's become as familiar as the land under our feet and the soil that nurtures our fresh food. Credit goes in no short measure to Michael and Lesley Tierra, nationally prominent health specialists with a large local practice, and a musically talented son. And as a musician himself, Michael's stature has enjoyed an additional lift by the prodigal, Chetan Tierra, who's been extremely busy knocking off national and international piano competitions one after another.

Chetan Tierra, now 23 and a senior student of Antonio Pompa-Baldi at the Cleveland Institute, will bring home his bounty for all to see and hear in a solo recital at Cabrillo College this Saturday evening.

"I've been lucky," says Chetan, whose name, in Sanskrit, means enlightened one. Among the big prizes taken at some 20 competitions are first prize and gold medal at the eighth California International Young Artists Competition in San Diego, first prize at the 28th Frinna Awerbuch International Piano Competition in New York (including a Carnegie Hall debut recital) and second prize at the 18th New Orleans International Piano Competition. All came with cash prizes and concert engagements.

Tierra is finishing up his instruction from Pompa-Baldi at the Cleveland Institute, in preparation for an upcoming appearance in Prokofiev's Piano Concerto no. 3 with the Louisiana Philharmonic. His performance of the same work at the institute won him top concerto honors among a half-dozen of his fellow pupils. While he gushes with enthusiasm for Pompa-Baldi as teacher, he muses, "I have a feeling he'll probably be my last." He is especially grateful to Pompa-Baldi for pushing him toward challenges, hinting that the prestigious Van Cliburn competition is on his list of things to do.

Though they don't agree on all points of interpretation--"every once in a while there's a taste difference"--a mutual admiration exists between teacher and pupil. Pompa-Baldi has written, "Chetan Tierra is undoubtedly one of the most gifted pianists performing today. He has all the makings of a major concert artist. His will become a household name."

Meanwhile Tierra, who punctuated his graduation from San Lorenzo High School with a performance of the Grieg Concerto with the Santa Cruz Symphony and Santa Cruz County Youth Symphony, has a plate fairly full with concerto appearances and solo recitals. His program for Cabrillo, a big one, includes Mozart's Sonata in F, k. 332, Franck's Prelude, Chorale and Fugue, Scriabin's Sonata no. 4, op. 30, Liszt's Ballade no. 2 and Ginastera's Sonata no. 1, op. 22.

Tierra began his piano studies with his father, and speaks with affection for Hans Boepple, who was his teacher from age 12 through his teens. His favorites among living greats include Krystian Zimmermann, Murray Perahia and "my teacher." Historic figures who've provided inspiration include Sviatoslav Richter, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli and, especially, Vladimir Horowitz. Does he emulate these greats? "Not specifically, nothing consciously," he says.

Tierra's good luck as a pianist obviously started at home. Asked for what advice he would give to today's music students, he begins, "Family is important, one that welcomes music in the home, that wants you to succeed, and," he grins, "expects you to practice." He recommends "living around as much music as you can," but cautions, "also learn what the world of music is like." His personal ambition now is to grow his reputation, in part by piling up more and more competitions. He maintains a website,, that lists his complete repertoire to date.

Meanwhile, Michael Tierra is the scheduled music director and pianist for the San Cruz Chamber Players program on March 3 and 4 at Christ Lutheran Church, in Aptos. The program, with eight additional SCCP regulars, is titled "Spotlighting 21st-Century American Women Composers," and includes works by Joan Tower, Jennifer Higdon, Libby Larson, Susan Alexjander and, as token-male, Don Adkins. Higdon, now getting performances everywhere, is represented by three works, the Viola Sonata of 1990 and the West Coast premieres of the String Trio of 1988 and Secret & Glass Gardens for solo piano of 2000.

Chetan Tierra performs as part of the Cabrillo College Distinguished Artists Series on Saturday, Feb. 3, at 8pm at Cabrillo College Theater, 6500 Soquel Ave., Aptos. Tickets are available by calling 831.479.6331, online at or at the door one hour before showtime.

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