Chamber music, says Santiago Rodriguez, is easy: "I play with people I like."
The 35-year old musician, winner of a passel of international piano-competitions, an active touring artist and a member of the faculty at the University of Maryland since 1980, is certainly playing with people he likes this week.
Tonight at Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena, Rodriguez appears in a trio with veteran violinist Ruggiero Ricci and cellist Nathaniel Rosen. The ensemble's tour this week--a short trip comprising also concert appearances in San Francisco, Phoenix and La Jolla--is their first together.
"Nick Rosen and I are buddies," Rodriguez said, on the phone from Maryland last week, "And he tried for a long time to get the three of us together. So, we went up to Ann Arbor, where Ricci was living, one weekend. And we hit it off. Zap, we were a trio."
But perhaps a short-lived one. Since that first weekend together, one of the three players has moved. Ricci, who formerly taught at Ann Arbor, is in the process of resettling in Europe, according to Rodriguez.
"It won't be quite as easy to rehearse, now," says the pianist.
The program the three give tonight shows their united eclecticism; it lists trios by Beethoven (Opus 1, No. 1), Shostakovich (No. 2 in E minor) and Dvorak ("Dumky").
As for his own solo career, the Cuban-born Rodriguez says he has no big complaints, "except, sometimes, frustration at trying to be a good teacher to my students here in Maryland, while traveling all over the place as a soloist."
"I feel a lot of guilt when I am gone for more than two weeks--I know some of these youngsters really need me," he said.
"I could take care of that guilt by giving up the teaching. But that would be harder than the way things are. Teaching really is an important part of my life."
Rodriguez says he has no current mentors when it comes to preparing new repertory.
"Ever since I left my last teacher, Adele Marcus, in 1973, I've really had no coaches. Sometimes, if I feel the need for other ears, I'll touch base with a friend who plays the violin, or with a cellist, and try new pieces on that person.
"But it's my idea that each of us is really his own best teacher, that we are ultimately, personally responsible for how we play. And that finally we do it alone."
Rodriguez's eclectic repertory is currently undergoing some stretching, he said.
"Recently I played the Piano Concerto by Ferruccio Busoni in Mexico City. What a piece! It's outrageous, very long, very complex and tremendously difficult. And it has five movements!
"But, I believe it is an important work, and absolutely needs to be heard. And reconsidered."