The many shades of Mason Gross musician Cristina Pato
At the roots, Cristina Pato’s hair is deep brown and straight; the bold green curls begin around her cheekbones and extend to the middle of her back. Her colors as a musician are equally rich, contrasting, and unexpected.
At home in Galicia, Spain, she is known for both her classical music on the piano and her popular folk music on the gaita, or Galician bagpipe. At Mason Gross School of the Arts, she is a second-year doctor of musical arts candidate in collaborative piano.
As disparate as her classical and popular music pursuits might seem, it was a piano performance at Rutgers that led to her Carnegie Hall debut as a bagpiper, performing alongside cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble in a new work by Osvaldo Golijov.
Her journey to the coveted stage of New York’s Carnegie Hall began in March 2006, when the eminent Argentinian composer came to Rutgers for a discussion and concert of his music. Select Mason Gross music students, Pato among them, performed in the program. One of the pieces was “Lúa Descolorida” for piano and soprano, the text of which is from a poem by Rosalía de Castro, one of the most important Galician poets of the 19th century.
“Because of my curiosity about why he chose a poem by Rosalía [a Spaniard], being from Argentina, the conversation about Galicia started,” Pato said.
The conversation about Galicia led to talk about the gaita, which led to Pato giving Golijov a copy of her demo. The following month, Golijov invited Pato to play “Lúa Descolorida” and “Levante” for piano solo in a public recital at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he is associate professor of music. He requested that she bring the bagpipe along to introduce the instrument to the audience.
He called again in September, asking her to give a lecture on the gaita at a workshop presented by the Silk Road Project in Tanglewood, Massachusetts. The project, whose artistic director is cellist Yo-Yo Ma, is a musical collaboration that celebrates the various cultures associated with ancient Eurasian trade routes. After the lecture, an impromptu jam session ensued, and Pato found herself playing her beloved gaita alongside Yo-Yo Ma and members of the Silk Road Ensemble.
Golijov, who had been developing a work with the ensemble, was so inspired by the improvisation that he decided to start over with a new work to include arrangements for the bagpipe. He asked Pato to perform the new work with Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble at Tanglewood, followed by four concerts at Carnegie Hall, the following week.
And, of course, Pato said yes. “That week was crazy,” she recalled, “because I had come back from Spain with the idea of putting the bagpipe in the closet and getting back to the piano.”
In advance of the Carnegie Hall concert, a story about Pato appeared on the front page of The New York Times’ arts section. “If you have never thought of the bagpipe as a particularly sensuous instrument (and who has?), Ms. Pato will amaze you,” wrote James Oestrich. “Her playing dismisses any notion of a square, martial quality, infusing almost constant exotic coloration, finding entire ranges of microtones between pitches and bending one into another.”
The collaboration has been so fruitful that Golijov asked Pato to play this summer at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival, for which he is the first composer-in-residence. The timing couldn’t be better for Pato, whose 10th anniversary as a soloist coincides with her 27th birthday in August. The anniversary celebration will begin in March with the release of a live CD/DVD of a concert she performed with her old band, Mutenrohi, last summer. In May, she will give a concert tour of Spain, Scotland, and France.
While her studies at Rutgers are her priority right now, Pato continues to record for her Spanish label, Zouma Records, in her spare time. In October, she released an album of piano and vocals entitled Desde Rusia hasta Brasil (From Russia to Brazil), recorded over the summer with Patrice Jegou, a doctor of musical arts candidate in voice at Mason Gross. Pato spent her recent winter break in Lisbon and Madrid, composing and recording music on the bagpipe and other regional instruments for the Spanish movie El Hombre de Arena.
Despite her early success, Pato said she has much to learn from her teacher at Mason Gross, Associate Professor Barbara González-Palmer. “She has a kind of thinking about not only the music, but the poetry, and that you are not an accompanist, but a collaborator,” said Pato. “The way she teaches and the way I learn from her is really what brought me here.”