When Santiago Rodriguez was 9 years old, he and his 7-year-old brother escaped from Cuba on a U.S.-bound plane, leaving his parents behind.
At the New Orleans orphanage where he spent his childhood, he continued the musical education started back in Cuba when "one of the nuns at the nursery school just sat me down at the piano and showed me how to play a few notes." Rodriguez, 30, remembers the separation from his parents as a difficult time, but one which gave him a certain strength he applies to his music. Finally, when Rodriguez was 14, his parents joined him and his brother in the U.S.
Now Rodriguez tours all over the world, and on one of these trips he brought more than memories back home. In Russia he met his wife, Natasha Bind, while he was on tour. They fell in love; three weeks later, they asked the Soviet government to grant an exit visa. Now the couple lives in Hyattsville and Rodriguez teaches at the University of Maryland. Natasha is a musicologist. "She is a real critic," says Rodriguez proudly. "She's very honest . . . a musician needs that."
Rodriguez has had his share of performance mishaps in the 21 years he's been doing concerts. "As I was playing a very loud and exciting piece," he says, "they call it 'reaching for the guts,' the piano lid fell right off onto to the floor. It made a horrible noise that scared everyone. But I kept playing."
He recalls another time when his luggage didn't arrive with him in El Paso, Texas, and he had to perform. "All I had with me was my blue jeans and Dolly Parton T-shirt. But they finagled me a dark suit" at the last minute.
The Fairfax Symphony, under the direction of conductor William Hudson, will be the resident orchestra at the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival at the Orkney Springs Hotel in Virginia Thursday through Saturday. Rodriguez will join them on Friday. His program will include Gershwin, Kern, Anderson, Lerner-Lowe and Sousa.