One of the most outstanding concert artists in the world is pianist Cecile Licad. Born in the Philippines, Licad began her studies on piano at the age of 3 with her mother and made her public debut in Manila at the tender age of 7. At 14, Licad played for pianist Rudolf Serkin, who upon hearing her exclaimed "when I was her age, I could not touch what she is doing." Licad was soon packed off to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where she studied with Serkin, Seymour Lipkin, and Mieczyslaw Horszowski. In 1980 Licad was awarded the prestigious Leventritt Award, even though she hadn't competed for it and the competition itself had been dormant for several years.
Her recording career began promisingly enough, with Licad's early CBS recordings of the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2 and the Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No. 2 invading the Billboard classical charts. After her work with CBS ended in 1989 with a splendid album of Schumann's piano music, she recorded some chamber music with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg for EMI, also appearing with the latter at Lincoln Center. In the mid-'90s Licad recorded two discs of Chopin and Ravel for the MusicMasters label that represented some of her best recordings. But even as Licad was winning unqualified raves for her work in the concert hall, changing economics in the classical music market sank MusicMasters, taking her recordings along with it.
In 2003 Licad made a stunning comeback in the record market with a magnificent recording of piano music by American composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk for the Naxos label. All along Licad has continued to tour and give concerts even as competition among soloists for a shrinking number of engagements is growing tighter by each season. One good example of Licad's toughness, however, is that in 2003 she was playing an outreach concert in Tuguegarao City, in the northern province of Philippines, and decided to take a side trip to view the Banaue rice fields. Licad and her company were trapped by a series of mud slides; however, she managed to slog through a couple of miles of knee-deep mud in order to make it to a helicopter, just in time to catch her 8 a.m. flight from Manila to her next engagement in Madison, WI.
About a Licad concert, a Washington Post reviewer once wrote "every sound she made was beautiful, every note and phrase the result of intellect warmed by emotion." Indeed, Licad is so good that she makes you forget the composer and luxuriate in the warmth and deep feeling elicited by her playing alone -- she could probably bring one to tears with a Czerny etude. Anyone who is foolish enough to stipulate that all the greatest concert artists belong to the past and that "they just don't make them like that anymore" has never heard Cecile Licad play.