A native of Havana, Cuba, Juana Zayas practically grew up around the piano. When, at two years of age, she began spontaneously playing tunes on the piano, her mother (herself a pianist) realized she had a child prodigy living under her roof, and so promptly began to teach Juanita herself. At the age of 7 Ms. Zayas gave her first recital and at age 11 graduated with a Gold Medal from the Peyrellade Conservatory with a performance of Schumann’s Piano Concerto. Six years later she entered the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris, studying piano with Joseph Benvenuti and chamber music with René Le Roy. Upon receiving First Prize in both fields Ms. Zayas went on to earn a Medal with Distinction at the International Geneva Piano Competition.
In Paris Ms. Zayas met future husband Henri, a budding chemist who also happened to be Le Roy’s private flute student. They married in Versailles and soon afterwards moved to Cambridge, England, where Henri continued his studies in chemistry. In 1966 they emigrated to the United States of America.
Following their arrival in the United States, Juana studied with Adèle Marcus, David Bar-Illan, and Josef Raieff. Though raising her three children limited her concertizing, it did not prevent her from expanding her repertoire and producing several critically-acclaimed recordings. Having emerged from this self-imposed hiatus from the frenetic music scene, Ms. Zayas has returned to the concert stage to glowing reviews and appreciative audiences the world over.
A Steinway artist, Ms. Zayas has given recitals throughout Europe, South America and the United States. She has performed with the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra and the Zeeuws Orchestra in the Netherlands, the Orquesta Sinfónica de Radio Televisión Española in Madrid, the Venezuela Symphony Orchestra, the San Diego Symphony and Rochester Philharmonic orchestras, among others.
Wherever she has performed critics have invariably remarked on the depth of Ms. Zayas’s artistry. When, in 1977, she performed both sets of the Chopin Etudes at her Alice Tully Hall debut, Ms. Zayas so charmed the legendary New York Times critic Harold Schonberg that he would later declare, “Ms. Zayas turned out to be a Chopinist to the manner born.” Her 1983 release of these notoriously challenging pieces has entered the canon of twentieth century recordings, driving — in Schonberg’s words — “Chopinophiles mad with ecstasy.” In 2001 the Cuban Cultural Center of New York presented Ms. Zayas with the Ignacio Cervantes Medal, its prestigious lifetime achievement award for excellence in classical music. In 2010, her more recent release of the Chopin Etudes earned her the coveted Diapason d’Or Award from the prestigious French Diapason music journal, hailing her as “Une Grande Pianiste”.
In 2011, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the death of famous conductor Andrzej Markowski, the Markowski Foundation invited Ms. Zayas to perform in Poland. In Łodz she played the Ravel Concerto in G major with the Arthur Rubinstein Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Marcin Niesiolowski. At the Sala Koncertowa Filharmonii in Wroclaw she impressed the audience with the sparkling brilliance of several Scarlatti sonatas, “the subtle painting of figures and moods” of Schumann’s Carnaval, and the unique “breadth and nobility of expression” in Chopin’s Sonata in B minor.
Over the past fifteen years Ms. Zayas has often performed at the Sala Verdi of Milan’s Conservatory of Music at the invitation of the prestigious Serate Musicali concert series. A reviewer of her March 2019 recital in Milan opined:“The overall level of what we heard puts Zayas among the best living pianists.” Her recent Soirée Italienne recording — a 2-CD set — features numerous Italian-inspired works by Bach, Scarlatti, Clementi, Chopin, and Liszt.