José Ramón Méndez Appointed to Piano Faculty at Oberlin

Described as "the Spanish pianist of his generation” by "Hoja del Lunes de Madrid," he brings an internationally renowned reputation as a pedagogue and performer.

April 18, 2024

Cathy Partlow Strauss ’84

José Ramón Mendez portrait

Oberlin Conservatory is delighted to announce that pianist José Ramón Méndez will join the faculty as Associate Professor of Piano in the fall 2024 semester. 

With Professor Peter Takács’ retirement at the end of this spring semester, Méndez now fills in the ranks of the highly acclaimed and productive teaching and performing faculty in Oberlin’s Piano Department.

"José Ramón Méndez is an excellent fit to be the newest member of our piano faculty,” says Alvin Chow, Professor and Chair of the Piano Department. “We have long admired his work, and are delighted to welcome him to be our colleague."  

Mendéz is familiar with both the Oberlin campus and many of the Conservatory’s student pianists. He first visited Oberlin in fall 2014 to serve on the jury for Oberlin’s Senior Concerto Competition, also performing a recital and teaching a master class. He spoke fondly of the experience, and “the exceptionally high level of excellence of the pianists” he heard perform in the competition and the master class.

“I’m excited to be coming to Oberlin because of this level of excellence—really the highest, as far as I’m concerned,” says Mendéz, “but besides that, the rest of the faculty is a draw. I’ve had the chance to be with several of them through the years at festivals. When this opportunity came, the decision was very easy because I knew it was a place where I could contribute. I feel very welcomed.”

Méndez grew up in a musical family and received his first music instruction from his father. By age 7, he was already performing on Spanish television and radio stations. He made his solo debut at 11 with the Oviedo Philharmonic Society in Spain, the youngest performer ever to do so in the history of the society. He gained international recognition when he performed Liszt's first piano concerto under the direction of Sergiu Commissiona at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. Since then, he has concertized extensively in his native Spain, the United States, Italy, England, Portugal, Holland, and Japan to great acclaim. 

pianist performingThe repertoire Méndez chooses to perform is very wide. “I am one of those people who remains in love with pieces they’ve played since they were 5,” he laughs. “I never tire of playing pieces and I’m forever in love with the pieces that everybody plays—I might be a very strange type of musician. But I really do love a lot of the repertoire.” 

He continues more seriously, “Bach has always been a love of mine, and I find that I have almost a therapeutic need for Bach. It’s kind of like a soul-cleansing thing I have to do.” 

“People that hear my playing refer to me as a Romantic pianist,” he shares, “so that repertoire is important to me. And, because I come from Spain, I play Spanish music for the piano—including contemporary Spanish music. I like to expose people to the music of my country.”

Méndez came to the United States for school, completing all of his studies at the Manhattan School of Music. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in piano performance with Solomon Mikowsky before finishing his Doctorate of Musical Arts under the tutelage of Byron Janis and Miyoko Lotto.

His professional teaching career began in 1996, when he was invited to teach master classes at the Gijon School of Music. He now runs the two-week-long Gijon International Piano Festival in Gijon, Spain, serving as its artistic director and on the faculty. The festival hosts up to 65 pianists from Europe, Asia, and many students enrolled in American schools. And, Méndez says, “There’s always a large contingent of Oberlin students at the festival. We love receiving students from Oberlin. They are good citizens at our festival.”

In addition to this festival and others, Méndez has been a member of the keyboard faculties at the University of Texas at Austin, New York University, The Pennsylvania State University, and Northwestern University. He currently serves on the piano faculty at Northern Arizona University.

His apparent love for teaching comes through in his hopes and vision for his Oberlin studio. “I hope that I can inspire in the students, if anything else, a love for music, a love for the instrument, and love for the instrument’s repertoire. In my studio, one needs a generally open-minded curiosity for culture and art. And I encourage an open-minded attitude for the works of underrepresented composers and for different musical styles. But, none of that can happen without a safe environment. I want my students to understand that they are encouraged and respected. They have to feel comfortable and safe in order to express who they are.”

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