The making of a piano prodigy

There is no denying that Cecile Licad is the country's most celebrated pianist.

With that realization, you will probably ask: how did she get to be the pianist she is regarded now?

The big answers can be found - not in the reviews - but in the little known book, "My Daughter Cecile" written by her mother, Rosario Buencamino Licad in 1994.

In this book, Mrs. Licad chronicles her daughter's life from conception to her winning the Leventritt gold medal, the only Filipino and probably the first Asian recipient.


From the very beginning, the author made it clear that upon discovery of a talent in the family, the next first big step is to find the right teacher and she found it in the person of distinguished pianist, Rosario Picazo, half-sister of President Manuel Roxas. Mrs. Licad makes a big distinction between the best teacher and the right one.

And then there's a funny anecdote during Licad's early Curtis years. An American history teacher inquired if anyone in the class knew Carlos P. Romulo. Cecile, then a mere 13-year year old, proudly answered, "He was a suitor of my former teacher, Miss Picazo." Getting an unlikely reaction, Cecile insisted it was true. Miss Padou, her History teacher joked," Cecile, you sure know the history of your country and people."

With introductions from two National Artists, Lucresia Kasilag and Leandro V. Locsin, "My Daughter Cecile" is a must handbook for both parents and young artists who want a clue of what it takes to be the pianist Licad is now.

The book has something for parents trying to decide the right teacher for their aspiring musicians and an insight about joining competitions at an early age. But most of all, the book chronicles what parents go through to give the best for a highly promising talent.

Locsin, in his introduction, pointed out that the book has one substantial message for all musicians and non-musicians: "From this book, we learn that talent has to be lovingly cared for, nourished, cultivated, encouraged, given opportunities, and allowed to flourish in an environment of excellence. If we hope to attain greatness as a nation, we must recognize every instance of greatness in its germinal stage and enable it to attain maximum development."

Kasilag wrote that Licad and her teacher, Rosario Picazo, is a perfect example of an ideal pupil-teacher relationship. She stressed: "I have greatly admired the pupil and the teacher as an interesting example for our teachers and pianists to learn from - for lessons in humility and humanity, discipline, dedication, and the handiwork of God's own plans for our young and developing country now entering and being recognized in the universal world of culture."

On January 22, 1981, the then 19-year old Filipino pianist Cecile Licad became the first Filipino recipient of the Leventritt Gold Medal. Thus far, only the likes of pianists Van Cliburn, Gary Graffman, Eugene Istomin and violinists Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman, were privileged to be given this medal.

In the post concert reception after Licad's New York debut, someone commented that "a star is born." Christian Reed of the CBS Masterworks, agreed. "Cecile Licad is already a star. The question is, will she be a great musician?"

Some 31 years after that question was asked, the answers came handy after the new millennium.

A few years back, a New York Times critic - after watching a Cecile Licad recital - said that with that particular performance, the Filipino pianist has joined the league of the world's greatest pianists.

In her book, Argentinian piano icon Martha Argerich considers Licad the greatest pianist of her generation.

Celebrated German cellist Alban Gerhardt didn't mince words when he told a Manila media person: "Cecile (Licad) is not one of the greatest. She is the greatest."

Two American critics who watched Licad's latest recital in California were agreed on one thing: Licad's interpretation of the complex, all-encompassing Liszt number was like listening to the composer himself.

Chicago Sun-Times summed it all up: "Cecile Licad is of the great flaming talents that comes along one or two times in every generation." (For inquiries on the book, call 5763132 or text 09065104270.)