Dominican pianist-composer Michel Camilo (b. 1954) moved to New York in 1979, studying at Mannes College and Juilliard after 13 years at the National Conservatory in Santo Domingo. He made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1985 with his jazz trio, and from 1987 to 1992 he served as music director of the Heineken Jazz Festival in the Dominican Republic. He was playing a date at New York's Blue Note club in 1995 when conductor Leonard Slatkin first heard him. Slatkin, music director of the National Symphony, was so impressed that he invited Camilo to be co-director of the first Latin-Caribbean Music Festival at the Kennedy Center in 1998, when Camilo's Piano Concerto was premiered with the composer playing the solo part.
Slatkin has proven a staunch champion of the work, recording it with the BBC Symphony in 2001. "The concerto is in the classic three-movement form," Slatkin wrote in the recording's liner notes. "The first movement is something along the line of a free-form fantasy. Michel gave the orchestra plenty to do here as well. I think you can hear so much of his background in this movement: the Latin connection, his classical training, and his deep personal convictions about life. The second movement is a ballad with two short improvised cadenzas. The finale is a virtuoso romp for everyone. When this movement is over we usually have to call the fire department to quell the smoke coming off the keyboard."
- John Henken is the Philharmonic's Director of Publications./p>