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Van Cliburn Concert Series: Elio Villafranca

Music/Performance
Great Hall

We invite you to join us for an evening of evocative performance by Steinway Artist and Grammy-nominated pianist Elio Villafranca. A masterful musician and internationally recognized performer, Elio’s combination of classical and jazz piano blended with music of the African diaspora brings passion and personality to the stage, each note carrying the weight of a well-told story.

Elio Villafranca sitting in front of a piano

Presented in partnership with the Northwest Arkansas Jazz society, and set against the backdrop of the Great Hall and Crystal Bridges’ own natural setting, this latest installment of the Van Cliburn Concert Series is not one to miss. We hope to see you there.

$45 ($36/members, $10 students), register online or with Guest Services at 479.657.2335.

Join via livestream, sign up for a reminder here.

Per the CDC’s updated guidelines, we are now requiring all guests ages 2 and up and staff to wear a face covering indoors and while attending outdoor programs, except while eating or drinking. Masks will be available upon entry for those who do not have one.

About the Performance

Elio’s performance brings together selections from his Grammy-nominated album Cinque and his two newest projects, Don’t Change My Name and Standing by the Crossroads. Each piece invokes the stories, struggles, and triumphs of the Caribbean peoples as well as the artist’s own experiences. Elio will be joined onstage by Dr. Jeffry Murdock and the vocal talents of a choral ensemble from the University of Arkansas.

Cinque tells the story of Joseph Cinqué, formerly known as Sengbe Pieh, a West-African man of the Mende people who was born as a free man in the country of Sierra Leone and then captured and transported to Cuba as a slave. While onboard the Cuban schooner La Amistad, Pieh freed himself and others from their shackles and took control of the ship in June of 1839, where their story takes an unexpected turn towards justice.

Don’t Change My Name is inspired by the story of Florentina Zulueta, a princess who was enslaved in her original homeland of Dahomey (present day Benin) in 1843 at the age of 15, and transported as a slave to Cuba. This three-movement opera evokes the resilient spirit of Zulueta and honors her work championing the Arará people of Cuba.

Finally, Standing by the Crossroads speaks about the spiritual meaning of Crossroads in the Caribbean and Elio’s own life experiences as an artist living in Cuba and the many Crossroads situations he encountered.

About the Artist

Born in the province of Pinar del Río, Cuba, Steinway Artist, cultural activist, pianist, and composer Elio Villafranca is a 2021 Guggenheim Fellowship recipient; a two-time Grammy nominee; 2019 Downbeat Critic’s Poll Rising Stars Pianist; winner of the 2018 Downbeat Critic’s Poll Rising Stars Keyboard; the first Cuban-born recipient of the Sunshine Award (2017), founded to recognize excellence in the performing arts, education, science and sports of the various Caribbean countries, South America, Centro America, and Africa; and a recipient of the first Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC) Millennium Swing Award in 2014.

Villafranca was classically trained in piano, percussion, and composition at the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana, Cuba. Since his arrival to the U.S. in 1995, he’s been at the forefront of today’s pianists and composers, fusing classical and jazz with music from the African diaspora. Based in NYC, Villafranca is a jazz faculty member at The Juilliard School of Music, Manhattan School of Music, New York University, and Temple University in Philadelphia.

About the Piano

The beautiful grand piano played in this concert once belonged to the internationally acclaimed pianist Van Cliburn. The piano was donated to Crystal Bridges by Tommy Smith, Cliburn’s long-time partner.

Sponsored by

The Van Cliburn Concert Series Endowment Fund supported by Kelly and Marti Sudduth, Reed and Mary Ann Greenwood, Ellis and Kay Melton, Chip and Susan Chambers, and William M. Fuller Foundation. Special thanks to Tommy Smith and Steinway & Sons.