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Passion for music experiences defines conservatory’s Presser award winner

Diego Bustamente

Music performance major Diego Bustamante.

May 15, 2020
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Diego Bustamante’s junior year piano recital was yet another event impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the show went on. 

The music performance major played 70 minutes of the works of Franz Joseph Haydn, Maurice Ravel and Johannes Brahms in an April 19 virtual recital from Butte County — on Facebook Live, while interacting with his online audience. 

“I would have preferred playing in The Recital Hall on campus, but many other students also had to adapt,” Bustamante ’21 said. “There were some typical glitches you have when you try to do anything live on Facebook. However, I had a very good microphone to use as a backup, so the edited version is clean. It was quite an experience.” 

Conservatory of Music Dean Peter Witte said the recital was yet another example of Bustamante’s “unstoppable” nature. 

The conservatory recognized Bustamante’s artistry and academics at its awards ceremony on May 7. He received the Presser Foundation Undergraduate Scholar Award, given to the outstanding junior class student majoring in music. The honor comes with a $4,000 award from the Presser Foundation. Witte said conservatories and music schools are chosen to award Presser Scholarships based on quality and reputation. 

“Diego is such a quality young man and is richly deserving of the honor,” said Bustamante’s piano professor Frank Wiens, who retired from the conservatory and is now an Artist in Residence at Pacific. 

Wiens said Bustamante’s junior recital was “reflective of the depth of his talent.” He played Haydn’s Piano Sonata in E Flat, Ravel’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales and Brahm’s Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor. 

“It was an amazing performance, not only for the way he played but for his interaction during the recording,” Wiens said. “He played some very long, intricate pieces.” 

The conservatory community cherishes Bustamante’s presence on campus. He is the ubiquitous student ambassador of music at Pacific. 

“He literally goes to every concert on campus,” said Jessica Siena, conservatory admissions director. “He is so supportive of the other students and faculty members. Diego is everywhere. He also frequently plays at campus events.” 

Bustamante said it “feels natural” to attend performances of all types.

“After I arrived for my freshman year, I was stunned that there seemed to be a concert every night,” Bustamante said. “It is such a gift, and I get to witness so much talent. In addition, the performances have given me a deeper understanding of other instruments and the artists who play them.” 

Bustamante’s sophomore year was beset by hardship. The Camp Fire devastated much of the town of Paradise, where he grew up. 

“When you are from Paradise, you are accustomed to dealing with wildfires,” Bustamante said. “But in the past, they always tended to miss us. It was different on November 8, 2018. Late in the day, I saw that one of my friends had marked themselves ‘safe’ from the fire on social media. It all just sounded more serious this time.” 

The fire destroyed the house of his father and badly damaged the house of his mother. His mother’s house, while smoke damaged, was the only one on her street that did not burn to the ground. Also surviving the fire was the family piano that Bustamante used in his virtual recital. 

“Most importantly, both of my parents were safe. My father now lives in Chico and my mother in Nevada City,” he said. “The label of being from Paradise sticks with you after what happened. You are always going to be from Paradise, the town with the terrible fire.” 

Bustamante will attend graduate school after he graduates from Pacific. He will spend much of the summer researching options. Otherwise, having been cooped up inside during shelter in place restrictions, Bustamante wants to get “back to nature.” 

He is an avid birder whose life list – a compilation of each type of bird he has seen – now stands at 533.

“I saw my first (California) condor last year,” he said. “I would like to get out and enjoy nature this summer. And, then, I am really looking forward to my senior year.”

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