A trip to India is an exception
After announcing her retirement in 2018, Portuguese pianist Maria Joao Pires, regarded as one of the best in the world, will take the stage in Mumbai for two performances
In 1999 during a lunchtime concert in Amsterdam, Riccardo Chailly started conducting the first bar of Mozart's piano concerto no 20 in D minor. It's when Maria João Pires started panicking or what Chailly described as an "electric shock." She had learnt the wrong concerto; it's worse than not knowing an answer to a question in the final examination — you can't just make stuff up and you certainly don't get marks for getting a step right. In a minute, she recuperated and started to play, without skipping a single note.
Two decades later, the episode is still subject to gasps at Pires' genius. Her extraordinary talent blossomed early on. Born in Lisbon, she played her first recital when she was five. That's why it pained many to hear her announce her retirement in 2018, citing the piano as the main cause; she said that she never had a good relationship with it. Surprisingly, in a year, she came out of retirement and will perform twice at the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) for the Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI) Spring 2020 season.
When asked of her decision to retire and what brought her back to something she wanted to be set free from, Pires says, "It is a good example that in life you cannot always take decisions, but sometimes, life takes decisions for you." She mentions that the Centro de Artes de Belgais that she founded in Portugal made her rethink her choice. At the same time, she insists that she wants to do less. "On the other hand making a trip to India is always an exception and it is for my heart and not anything else."
Pires with the Dalai Lama. Pic/Facebook
There's Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Schumann on the agenda for her concerts at the NCPA. And while the tickets for her first performance this Sunday sold out quickly, there is a recital to watch out for on Tuesday with violinist Augustin Dumay, who she has had a long-standing friendship with. Pires might not be verbose in an interview, but it reflects the very ideal she stands for — accessibility. As a musician, she manages to convey the depth of what she's playing without delving into allegros or tenths. About Beethoven, she once said, "He gives you hope and at the same time gives you the need to fight for the truth, the soul and our best part." While she also tells us that he has the genius of analysing spirituality, she views Mozart as a composer who is rather complex and who is constantly switching through emotions. "He can make you smile or cry in the same phrase — constantly impermanent, moving and understanding human nature."
Pires, 75, has also studied Buddhism; her grandfather was a Buddhist and her father lived in Japan and China. She equates music to Buddhist philosophy, saying, "It is a question of expressing culture, religion and spirituality." Music, for her, is an expression of human spirit and value. The pianist is an admirer of the Dagar Brothers. She calls them the "real artistes" who combine both freedom and discipline. That's also the advice she leaves aspiring musicians. "Organise yourself like you want to and not how society wants you to... One should follow rules but not to the extent of damaging one's personality," she states. When she's not practising, you might find Pires looking around in the city one of these days — it's the only plan she reveals to us. She'd like to "walk around, and get some fresh air".
ON February 18, 7 pm
AT Tata Theatre, National Centre for the Performing Arts, NCPA Marg, Nariman Point.
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