Posts Tagged ‘pianist’

Photo: Marcio De Assis via GoodNewsNetwork.
Brazilian piano maestro João Carlos Martins was deeply moved when new bionic hands enabled him to return to the keyboard.

Well, here’s some uplift for a November Monday. It concerns a Brazilian pianist who had to switch to conducting when disease and injury crippled his hands. Twenty years later, a designer tried to get in touch with the famed musician “on various platforms.” If you’ve ever tried to reach a famous person that way, you’ll appreciate the designer’s persistence.

Gabriella Paiella at GQ wrote, “Over the years, fate seemed to do all that it could to stop João Carlos Martins from playing the piano.

“It started in the 1950s, when he was 18. Something called focal dystonia. … The brain misfires and causes involuntary muscle spasms, which was mighty inconvenient for a young Brazilian piano prodigy on the precipice of world fame.

“He managed to get it under control and, by his early 20s, landed in New York City. Martins had it made back then: a tony apartment across the street from the Met, celebrated performances at Carnegie Hall and virtually every other major theater around the globe. They even had a nickname for him, the Mailman, because he always delivered. To relax, Martins would take leisurely strolls around Central Park, where sometimes he’d see his neighbor Jackie Kennedy. He played pickup soccer in the park too.

“Then one day, while chasing after the ball, he tripped.

“In the seconds between losing his footing and hitting the ground, there hung countless permutations for how skin and bone could collide with earth and inflict damage. The outcome: right elbow, sharp rock, a sliced ulnar nerve. Martins knew he was in trouble when the blood started spurting out. He knew he was really in trouble when, in the coming months, his fingers started to atrophy. And when his fingers started to atrophy, he thought about killing himself.

“Martins kept going, though his skills as a pianist were diminished. He even embarked on a decades-long quest to record the complete works of Johann Sebastian Bach. In 1995, at the age of 54, he traveled 6,000 miles from his then home in Brazil to tape in this one theater in Sofia, Bulgaria, with great acoustics. He was walking back to his hotel late at night when two muggers ambushed him with a metal pipe, and — thwack! — they took off with his passport and wallet and left him for dead. When Martins woke up in the hospital, he couldn’t feel the right side of his body.

“There had been other pain and misfortune along the way. A recurring repetitive-motion injury from practicing that was so agonizing he compares it to kidney stones. A pulmonary embolism. A coma because of that pulmonary embolism, during which Death, or at least an apparition of it, paid him a personal visit.

‘I recall an image of a carriage passing by with beautiful black horses,’ Martins says. ‘It was a beautiful carriage. The coachman asked me to get in the carriage, and I said, “No, I’m not going to get in.” That image is something I’ve never forgotten. The image is like a sign that I had a mission I had to fulfill with music.’

“In 2000, a failed surgery originally intended to restore functionality did his right hand in for good. Soon after, doctors found a tumor in his left. They removed it, along with any remaining hope of his fingers gliding over his beloved keyboard ever again. …

“At the age of 63 … Martins resigned himself to saying his most permanent goodbye to the piano yet: He chose to retire and become a conductor. He would now make music communally, after decades of being entwined in personal relationship with his instrument.

“Then along came these bionic gloves, created by an industrial designer named Ubiratan Bizarro Costa, who became familiar with Martins’s problems after he saw the maestro on a Brazilian television show in 2019. There is nothing high-tech about the gloves Costa invented, which is how he prefers it. … ‘I use minimalist design,’ Costa says. ‘The fewest number of pieces and the fewest number of expensive parts for the maximum result.’

“The gloves are both deceptively complicated looking and incredibly precise. The hand slips into a neoprene sleeve outfitted with a 3D-printed frame and stainless steel bars on the fingers. … Without the gloves, when Martins’s fingers hit a key, they stay depressed; the steel bars pop them back up.

“After seeing Martins on TV, Costa made a prototype and tried to get in touch with him on various platforms, but never heard back. The gloves lay dormant on a shelf in his office, until Costa saw that Martins and his orchestra were passing through Sumaré. …

“He went to the show, flagged down a musician, and explained his predicament. The guy thought Costa was kind of a weirdo but agreed to grab Martins. Eventually, Martins came out and Costa presented him with his invention.

“ ‘I thought he was an endearing mad scientist,’ Martins says, remembering his first encounter with Costa. [But] a few days after the concert, Martins invited Costa over for lunch. He told the designer what worked and what didn’t. Costa went home and fiddled with his model. …

“By Christmas 2019, Martins was able to place all 10 fingers on the keyboard for the first time in over two decades. Costa was pleased to see Martins playing in person, but it wasn’t until he saw the video that the gravity of the moment fully dawned on him.

“It’s like designing a paintbrush for Pablo Picasso, he thought.”

More at GQ, here. If you are on Instagram, you will be moved by this video of him playing properly for the first time in 20 years, thanks to the bionic gloves.

Read Full Post »

Photo: UDiscoverMusic.
Colette Maze was born in Paris on 16 June 1914 and has been playing the piano since she was five years old.

I always like stories about people who accomplish something at an advanced age, but for today’s post, I hasten to point out that the accomplished pianist has actually been working on her skills since 1919.

Maddy Shaw Roberts writes at Classic FM, “On 16 June 2021, Colette Maze celebrated her 107th birthday. She is undoubtedly one of the oldest recording pianists in the world. Her playing, which features plenty of her favourite composer Debussy’s melodies, remains extraordinarily agile and sensitive.

“ ‘It’s no more complicated than eating a salad,’ she told Le Parisien.

“At two or three years old, young Colette heard the children of her family’s upstairs neighbours playing the piano. Inspired, she began to pick out the melodies with one finger. Her parents eventually got the hint and found her a piano teacher.

“Colette spent her childhood bathed in music, and at 16 was accepted to study at the prestigious École Normale de Musique in Paris, just before the onset of World War II.

“Her parents were strict, Colette recalls in an interview, and her mother didn’t like children. To young Colette, the piano became a musical comfort blanket of sorts.

“As an adult, Colette continued her love affair with music and worked as a piano teacher for many years. …

‘My fingers are always working,’ says Maze, who practises for four hours a day. ‘They never get tired.’

“The 107-year-old adds that playing piano helps her to stay loose, engage with her mind and emotions and keep moving. ‘Sometimes I play foxtrots and dance at the piano. I used to go dancing a lot,’ she tells Le Parisien.

“Aged 84, she released her first album. Nearly 20 years later, at 103 years old, she recorded an album of her favourite composer, Debussy. …

“ ‘[Music] is my food, my food for the spirit and for the heart,’ Maze told Reuters after having recorded her sixth album, a three-volume recording of works by Debussy, which she released in April 2021. Last year, she recorded works by another beloved French maestro, Erik Satie.

“Her only son, Fabrice Mace, says his mother has been an inspiration for others during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“To this day, Maze insists that staying young isn’t a question of age – it’s a question of attitude, and staying passionate and curious. If you can do that, Maze tells DW, ‘Staying young is eternal.’ ”

More here.

Read Full Post »


Photo: Heather Khalifa / Philadelphia Inquirer
Pianist Tianxu An lived through every performer’s worst nightmare when he suddenly had to play the wrong piece.

I don’t know about you, but I have often had what might be called the Performer’s Nightmare. Sometimes it takes the form of the Teacher’s Nightmare (a classroom full of utterly uncontrollable kids) or the Actor’s Nightmare (onstage in a big role with no idea of my lines). Maybe you have had it for a PowerPoint presentation at work. I don’t even want to imagine what a Surgeon’s Nightmare might be like, but I believe we’ve all had one of these scary dreams.

For the pianist in this story, nightmare became reality.

As Peter Dobrin reported at the Philadelphia Inquirer, “It sounds like the musical version of a classic anxiety nightmare. You walk out on stage, sit down at the piano for a concerto, and the orchestra starts playing a different piece than the one you were prepared to perform.

“And yet a few weeks ago it was all very real to Tianxu An, who lived through the strange episode in the finals of one of the most prestigious competitions anywhere.

“The Curtis Institute of Music student, just 20, was ready to play the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in June. When conductor Vasily Petrenko brought in the orchestra for its brief introduction, the sound that came at An was that of Rachmaninoff’s ‘Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.’

‘I was really surprised,’ said An. ‘The problem was I needed to react in that kind of fast way, so there was no time for me to begin with some kind of emotion.’

“Rather, it was pure muscle memory, he said.

“Now [that is, in July 2019] the Philadelphia-based pianist is getting ready to play the same Rachmaninoff piece with considerably more intentionality. He is soloist in the work Tuesday at the Mann Center with the Philadelphia Orchestra in an all-Rachmaninoff program led by conductor Elim Chan.

“In Moscow, An was a full beat late in his entrance, but caught on fast and says he soon felt at ease in the Rachmaninoff, which he had prepared but did not expect to come until after the Tchaikovsky, in the final round of the competition. …

“Competition officials apologized for the mix-up, which they called a ‘gross error’ on the part of an employee. In the end, An was awarded fourth place plus a special prize for ‘courage and self-possession.’ …

“ ‘I really feel thankful for this competition,’ says An, ‘because for me to be in the round of the 25 people going to Moscow, that for me has already been luck.’ …

“Competitions, he says, can challenge him to ‘play better and in a more complete way. I think the nature of human beings is we tend to relax, we don’t want to challenge ourselves. Competition is a way to objectively push, to force us to play better. …

” ‘I think I projected and played the emotions I wanted. That’s the good part. But for maybe the bad part, because the order was switched, my physical strength was not equally distributed. Because maybe I put too much strength in the first piece.’

“Next time, at the Mann, when the conductor begins with a gust of four 16th notes, both the character and piece may come across differently. For one thing, the pianist will be expecting it.”

This is what my husband calls Type Two Fun: fun to talk about later, not so much fun at the time. More at the Inquirer, here.

Note the pianist’s astonishment when the conductor started the wrong music at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow.

Read Full Post »

It’s interesting to me how artists who believe in a particular cause will use what they know best to advance that cause. Sometimes it takes art to get a wider audience to understand an issue.

At the Greenpeace blog, Elvira Jiménez and Erlend Tellnes wrote in early June about how pianist and composer Ludovico Einaudi is raising awareness of global warming.

“The Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise set off from the Netherlands carrying a very special load: the voices of eight million people. Messages from around the globe calling for governments to save the Arctic from threats such as oil drilling and destructive fishing. …

“As the ship stopped in Svalbard, Norway, Europe’s gateway to the Arctic, it welcomed aboard a very special guest: renowned pianist and composer, Ludovico Einaudi. With him a grand piano, to undertake his most challenging performance yet, in the Arctic surrounded by ice. …

“As he performed this piece for the first time — in front of a magnificent surging glacier — the music echoed across the ice, a moment that will remain in our minds forever.” More here.

If one picture is worth a thousand words, maybe this one had an effect: a couple weeks later an international conference voted for protection of the Arctic.

Pilar Marcos followed up at the Greenpeace blog on June 30: “At a meeting held in Ostend, Belgium, last week, the OSPAR Convention agreed to adopt specific measures to protect its Arctic region, including a commitment to secure a marine protected area (MPA) in 2016.

“This means an unprecedented agreement on Arctic protection, which could result in safeguarding the first piece of a future sanctuary in the High Arctic in just a few months’ time. [It’s an] area equivalent in size to half of the surface of Spain, [where] no oil drilling or large industrial fishing will take place, and where the protection of threatened habitats and species will be the priority.”

Photo: Greenpeace
Acclaimed Italian composer and pianist Ludovico Einaudi performs “Elegy for the Arctic” on a floating platform in the Arctic Ocean, the world’s most vulnerable ocean.

Read Full Post »

Longtime concert pianist Byron Janis recently wrote an essay for the Wall Street Journal about programs using music to help veterans with PTSD and other traumas to heal.

“Can music heal?” he asks. “There’s been a great deal of study by neuroscientists on the different ways music acts upon the brain, affecting our behavior, memory and the like. …

“I recently witnessed the healing effects of music first hand. As part of their ‘National Initiative for Arts and Health in the Military,’ I was invited by Americans for the Arts to visit the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and participate in ‘Stages of Healing.’ This program, created by Dr. Micah Sickel, helps patients learn how to play a musical instrument and facilitates live performances whose aim, according to the hospital, is to ‘enhance the healing process’ …

I knew what I wanted to play for them—two Chopin waltzes and ‘A Hero’s Passing By’ … I then played two songs from a musical I had written about the Hunchback of Notre Dame. One was a love song and the other is titled ‘Like Any Man,’ which I felt very much suited the occasion. The Hunchback sings that although he is so disabled, he is just like any man.” Read more.

Photo of Byron Janis in 1962: Wikimedia Commons

Read Full Post »

My friend Alden, the oboist, is in considerable demand around the area. A good oboe player is hard to find, and he is very good. I have seen him solo with the Charles River Wind Ensemble and also take part in a lovely performance of Handel’s Messiah.

On Saturday night Alden played oboe with the Melrose Symphony, where a young piano soloist got a nice ovation. Alden writes, “In fact, the audience clapped between each of the movements he played. It was such a nice reception because he really is so talented and such a genuinely sweet, talented kid.” Read about it here.

The Melrose Symphony bio says, “Kadar Qian, 13, is a native of Westford, MA. As an award-winning pianist he has appeared with the Salem Philharmonic and Cape Ann Symphony in addition to over 60 performances in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York City. Qian recently appeared on the NPR radio show From the Top performing the Goldberg Variations by J.S. Bach, heard locally on 99.5 All Classical. Qian is a high honor roll student at Stony Brook School in Westford and has been a member of the math team since third grade, winning top prizes at the Academic Math League competitions. He was recently elected as Vice-President of the student body.”

Here he is playing a Chopin Waltz.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: