Hearing piano playing by Maria João Pires is an experience that resembles no other, difficult to describe and not to be missed.
So much has been said about the piano playing of Maria João Pires, with so many comments and reviews coming close to capturing (in words) a description-defying phenomenon, that it seems nearly foolhardy and presumptuous to add yet another voice to those singing her praises — but sing I must, if for no other reason than the self-centered one that hearing her and looking forward to hearing her have been recurring markers in the life of this grateful writer.
Piano playing at age five heralds things to come
Hearing this snippet of a five-year-old’s piano playing makes one believe that it must have been obvious very nearly from her birth where Maria João Pires was headed, yet it could hardly have been imagined how different she would become from all the renowned pianists who are her fellows. Although every note she plays is extremely personal, she appears not to possess an ego in the usual manner; it is as if she exists only to be a medium through whom the composer’s will and intentions are heard. Time stands still at her bidding (I am thinking of the last two measures in the second movement of Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto), but we also feel an inevitable, excruciatingly delayed though beckoning connection to what awaits.
The hearing of such piano playing as milestones in a musician’s life
The Beethoven concerto mentioned above — the fourth — comprised my own unforgettable introduction to Maria João Pires. I had begun playing in an orchestra in Lisbon, decades ago; she was not really known in the States, where I had just completed graduate studies, and therefore I had no inkling of the revelation I was about to undergo. Before she arrived at the rehearsal, my Portuguese colleagues were saying, “You are in for an unbelievable experience.” How fortuitous, how incredible it was to sit so close and accompany this genius in a first encounter. Since that moment (the rehearsal and the performances were but a moment, over in a flash), one view of my life could be represented by the seeking of occasions to hear her piano playing again with the heightened anticipation of a concert on the horizon and, once satisfied, the next searches and maneuvers to be in her presence once more. At this writing, I am fortunate enough to be looking forward to that same Beethoven in two months, in Amsterdam. I may dare to breathe a bit more than I did in Portugal, so long ago, but not much, for fear of missing a telling, exquisite detail.