Piano prodigy Eliane Rodrigues was recognized at a very young age for her unique and compelling musical abilities. She began composing at the tender age of 3, performed at her first recital at age 5, and was playing with orchestras by the time she was 6 years old. Since then, she has won awards at numerous regional and national competitions, including a win at the Van Cilburn Competition in the United States when she was 18 years of age, and has performed her work across the globe. Her latest release with Navona Records, THE GERSHWIN & BERNSTEIN CONNECTION, brings her performance and arranging abilities to the fore while also highlighting the talents of her daughter, pianist Nina Smeets, and percussionists Carlo Willems and Koen Wilmaers.

An extremely well thought out record that rewrites some of the most timeless work from the seminal composers, while Rodrigues and Smeets handle the piano with unimaginable talent, the percussion from Carlo Willems and Koen Wilmaers truly sets this apart in the field of classical music, making for an engaging, and absorbing effort.


We recently caught up with Eliane and discussed all that led up to THE GERSHWIN & BERNSTEIN CONNECTION, including her musical background, performing with her daughter, her connection to these American composers, and more.

In addition to our conversation, enjoy Eliane’s written responses to the “Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our artists.

What inspires you to write and perform?

I am inspired by the enormous need to tell what all these wonderful composers wanted to tell. There is so much to be inspired by in these pieces: human behavior, love, compassion, mildness…

As a toddler I was very touched each time I listened to music. It was as if the composers were whispering their own experiences from their lives through their music. Getting older these feelings of connection only became stronger. The importance of sharing this feeling with everybody is what drives me. Through being heard, music can transport those emotions to someoneʼs very core. And one doesn’t necessarily need to be able to play an instrument to understand. When you just let yourselves be immersed in the music around you, itʼll be clear :-)

As a composer most of the experiences and emotions I share are those of my own life and from the lives of those around me.

If we looked through your music library, what would we be surprised to find?

I think people would be surprised to hear me conducting. In my own Musica Romântica Festival in Switzerland I have had the pleasure to conduct many orchestras in different styles, from composers and pieces like Marcello’s Concerto for oboe in D minor, Bach’s piano concertos, and Beethoven concertos and symphonies to Stravinsky’s Firebird, Bernstein, and Williams. Amazing moments.

Do you have any specific hopes about what this album will mean to listeners?

I hope to open every single personʼs heart when they listen to this album and Iʼm sure the same goes for everyone involved in this project. Of course, each time that I listen to this album in the future, hearing myself playing together with my daughter Nina will make each listening experience very special for me and I’m sure it will for her as well. The album began as a proposition to make a concert program for two pianos and percussion. I knew the very beautiful reputation of my colleagues of the Conservatory, and it was really impossible to say no to the opportunity to play with my daughter on such an incredible program. It has been a great success, and everyone was very excited and happy. Immediately I had the idea to record our versions of these pieces for an album, and YES was the only word I heard in response ? ?

And now we are here, very happy to release our album and bring this American classical music from the past into the future in a new way, making listeners remember the feelings we once had in our youth: happiness, love, hope, hard moments, deceptions…

What were your first musical experiences?

When I was a year old I amused myself trying to play the notes I had heard on cartoons and announcements, and I was making my own music when I was a few years old. At a certain moment I “understood” the piano and I then made a piece for my mother (She was at that moment the ballerina soloist of the Theatro Municipal from Rio de Janeiro). Afterwards she let me play for the chief conductor and he advised her to let me study the piano and thatʼs how it all began… :-)

A young Eliane signing autographs after performing a recital in Rio de Janeiro

What are your other passions besides music?

My family is my life. I also have two dogs at home and I adore feeding the birds in my garden every morning. Teaching is another passion, both solo piano and chamber music.

Who are your musical mentors?

One mentor was my very first teacher in Brazil, Helena Gallo, but I don’t know that much about her (I was just years old). I can only be very grateful to her for guiding me very gently. She was also Christina Ortizʼs teacher. My second teacher was Arnaldo Estrella, a student of Yves Nat (who was student from Alfred Cortot). From him I learned all my basic techniques. My third teacher was the Belgian Jacques de Tiège. He had studied with Eduardo del Pueyo as well as with Leon Fleisher and Maria Curcio and was a close friend of Alexis Weissenberg. He was an excellent teacher and I really blossomed from “young adolescent” to “grown-up” while studying with him.

I actually had tremendous luck with meeting the right teachers at the right times :-)

THE GERSHWIN & BERNSTEIN CONNECTIONis now available for streaming or purchase through Navona Records. Click here to explore this new album.