Portfolio of Kimberly Johans

A collection of articles created during my stint as a journalist at The Macau Daily Times

Six decades of hitting the right notes

Posted by Kimberly on October 31, 2007

By Kimberly Johans
Published in The Macau Daily Times
October 31, 2007, page 2 (973 words)

Born in Lisbon, Portuguese pianist Maria Joao Pires played her first public concert at the age of four. And now, 59 years later, she’s about ready to play her last.
“I’m just wanting to stop,” she said during a press conference at the Macao Cultural Centre yesterday.
“It was never a real choice. Not in terms of playing music. Of course it was a choice and I loved it, all my life. But it was not a choice to play concerts and to be a concert pianist, to play in public.
“Because it was not a choice, it was somehow always something where I had to force myself,” she said, adding that her passion lies with education and social projects that involve children.
“That’s what I really love to do,” and she has certainly made inroads in that direction, having founded a centre in Portugal called Belgais Centre for Study of the Arts ten years ago, after some study into education.
“The main idea was to create a centre where you would look for many different ways of putting arts into the daily lives of people,” she said, directing this more towards schools that were disadvantaged, “with children that had real problems, such as delinquency.”
Now, despite her return to Brazil to work, the Centre continues to run, consisting of a primary school, which she claims is “experimental” and a children’s choir, that give experimental concerts for “people who not used to listening to music.
“It was not a Centre to promote music or arts. It was just to convey the experience of this and how to introduce arts into the daily lives of everybody,” she said.
She began to speak then, about her reasons for leaving Portugal, stating that, “I had a lot of pressures on me.
“It is always difficult when it is your own country that provokes such big problems. It’s always difficult to accept that you’re not supported and not accepted by your own country,” she said, adding that she accepted the situation by leaving.
She chose not to elaborate any further than stating that “it was a hard time and you begin to realise that the world in general goes into a very wrong way of behaviour.
“I was totally devoted to children and I wanted to go further and to do really deep work, but they wanted me to make a superficial project that doesn’t go into the deep problems of society,” she said.
Yet when she chose to go that route, problems began to show through, and as Maria said, “when you see how children are treated, how institutions work with [them] there is no possibility of coming out of this hell,” she said.
The lesson she learnt was not to “get mixed up in something that isn’t your matter.”
Moving on to a topic that very much matters to her, Maria spoke about Macau as the place her father was used to live in “almost his whole life”, a man whom she had never met, his death having occurred prior to her birth.
With her last visit having occurred “over 25 years ago”, Maria said she was very happy she had come, “because I met some very nice people here that I didn’t know before.
“If you play in concerts all over the place, you get used to going to places where you don’t have a special interest or reason and sometimes the places where you have a special reason to go and would love to, you don’t.”
“The place has totally changed and not like it was before. I don’t know if I could find anyone related to him,” she added.
Her practice session at the Dom Pedro IV Theatre on Monday night gave her cause for excitement, with Maria having found reference to the Theatre via some letters written by her father.
As for Macau itself, “I always find it a bit sad, these kind of cities that develop this much. The boom of the economical world always shocks me because I think the injustice in the world is too big and I think they want us to see this kid of development as something positive,” she said, admitting that “I see it always as something negative.”
Coming back to music, Maria admitted to loving Brahms and Litsz, neither of which she was particularly proficient in, among others.
“better to leave it to people who have bigger hands and play very well,” she said laughingly, adding that “as a pianist, it’s crazy to think you can play everything.”
The only time she hasn’t played the piano lasted for a period of four and a half years, but she said, “I never really missed it, as long as I could listen to it.
Her reasons for stopping were two-fold, firstly giving her the time to spend with her two youngest children, of which she has a total of five.
“The other reason was I started having problems with my right hand,” she admitted, adding that the problem still persisted although she has learnt to play with it.
She described the Macao Orchestra, who shall be accompanying her tonight, as “having a very high quality.”
Finally, she spoke of her collaborations with French violinist Augustin Dumay and Chinese cellist Jiang Wang adding that at one stage Dumay and herself worked together for ten years, while her association with Wang as a trio came later.
It was a very important experience,” she said, explaining that chamber music was enriching for a person that does it, “as you learn something from the others, something a soloist doesn’t and that’s to compromise and stay within certain limits,”
She despaired at the thought that children these days, particularly those in the United States, were pushed too much into solo careers, as “it doesn’t give them the real life experiences.”

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