Born July 23, 1944 in Lisbon, Portugal. Education:1 Lisbon Academy of Music; studied with Campos Coelho, Francine Benoit, Rosl Schmidt, Karl Engel. Education: Lisbon Academy of Music Addresses: Agent--Askonas Holt Limited Lonsdale Chambers, 27 Chancery Lane, London WC2A 1PF.

Portuguese pianist and musical purist Maria Joao Pires performs intimate renditions of classical compositions with an exquisitely fluid style. She is best known for her performances of Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, and Schumann. Pires, a child prodigy, gave her first recital at age four and went on to perform a Mozart concerto at age five. She studied with some of the greatest teachers of the twentieth century, and her perennial collaborations with symphony orchestras around the world are greeted with enthusiasm. Equally acclaimed are her chamber music renditions most notably in a trio, with cellist Jian Wang and Augustin Dumay on violin.

Pires, who was born in Lisbon, Portugal on July 23, 1944, began to play the piano at age three. She studied with Professor Campos Coelho at the Lisbon Academy of Music between 1953-60, and graduated at age 16. During that same time, she studied technique and theory with Francine Benoit. Afterward, she won a Gulbenkian scholarship and went to Munich to study with Rosl Schmidt at Staatliche Hochschule fuer Musik (Musikhochschule de Munich). She also studied in Hannover with Karl Engel.

In 1970, Pires took the first prize at the Beethoven Bicentennial International Competition in Brussels. That distinction brought her international notoriety, and soon she was in demand to perform outside of her native Portugal. Initially, she performed in Spain and in Germany but soon expanded the scope of her tours. She traveled throughout Europe, and into Africa, and Japan She debuted in London in 1986 accompanied by violinist Augustin Dumay, and she made her North American debut that same year, with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra in Canada. In 1987, Pires participated in the inaugural tour of the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra with Claudio Abbado. She performed with that group in Hamburg, Paris, and Amsterdam. The following year, she performed her debut tour of the United States. In 1989 she signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon, and in 1990 she performed again with Abbado this time with the Wiener Philharmoniker at the Salzburg Easter Festival.

Over time Pires gained respect worldwide as a soloist with the finest orchestras in the world. She appeared regularly with the Berlin Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw of Holland, the London Philharmonic, and Orchestre de Paris among others. In April of 1995, she toured the United States with Concertgebouw of Holland, under Riccardo Chailly as director. Among their performances were Richard Strauss's Ein Heldenleben at the Kennedy Center.

Pires appeared at the Edinburgh Festival in August and September of 1998, and in September of that year Deutsche Grammophon announced that Pires would perform in a new program of on-board concerts in conjunction with Seabourn Cruise Line. The concerts, scheduled for exotic ports of call, included an appearance by Pires in the first program of the series, performing on board during a transatlantic crossing destined for her hometown of Lisbon in April of 1999. That year she was to appear at Salzburg Mozartwoche with the Berlin Philharmonic. Additionally she was scheduled for multiple appearances with the Boston Symphony, including two shows at Carnegie Hall. Also on her itinerary was an appearance with the Minnesota Orchestra and concerts in the Orient, along with chamber music concerts in Europe and the United States her Atlanta debut was scheduled for April of 1999 at the Clayton College & State University.

In addition to her work as an orchestral soloist, she is equally acclaimed for her chamber performances, and frequently performs accompanied by violinist Augustin Dumay. Pires and Dumay have performed together throughout much of Europe including Spain, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, and Germany. They performed in Japan in 1992 and again in 1994. The duo frequently performs in trio with cellist Jian Wang, and in 1998 the three of them toured the Orient.

Pires admittedly concentrated a significant proportion of her repertoire on chamber scores, often to the exclusion of some of the more flamboyant concerti of Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninoff. She attributed her preference to the fact that she was not born with the large hands and long slender fingers stereotypical of a pianist. Indeed her hands are surprisingly small, yet she makes no bother of the fact, and instead plays music that is appropriate for her personal physical design. Among her most popular recordings are the complete nocturnes of Chopin and her many Mozart concertos. Pires takes credit for popularizing the works of Chopin and for providing new insight into his compositions, which for many years were subjected to stagnant, mechanical performances that lacked in-depth interpretation. Her CHOPIN: the Complete Nocturnes reached number one on the popular music charts very soon after its release in 1997. Allen Linkowski of American Record Guide called Pires "[A]n exquisite Chopinist," and said of her Chopin Nocturnes a "reviewer's dream."

In addition to her renditions of the works of Chopin, Pires's best performances include compositions by Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, and Schumann. Critics applaud Pires for her clarity and interpretive phrasing. Brian Hunt in the Daily Telegraph said of her Mozart Piano Trios with Dumay and Wang, "[She has] illuminating phrasing, animated line and golden touch." She is undeniably one of the great pianists of the late twentieth century. She is respected as a rare artist who plays strictly out of affection for the music and out of love for her instrument. Pires also teaches music herself and counts the 1991 Lara Haskil Competition finalist, Emmanuel Strosser of Strasbourg, among her students.

Apart from her accomplishments on the concert stage, Pires is the mother of four grown daughters, and she has five grandchildren. During the mid-1990s she adopted an infant boy, named Claudio, with whom she spends great deal of time, taking him along with her on tour whenever possible. Pires related the story of how she came to be Claudio's mother, explaining that he caught her attention as a newborn in the hospital where one of Pires' own daughters was delivering a child. Claudio's mother disappeared shortly after his birth. Pires adopted the boy when it became evident that she would never return and that the child was completely abandoned. She brought him to live with her on her farm, which is located in a remote area about one hour's drive from Lisbon.

Although much of her land is reserved to grow olives for oil, Pires is extremely self-sufficient and grows her daily fare as well. She is unusually caring and warm as a person and opens her home to young musicians and other artists, in order to provide an informal setting for them to relax and discuss whatever problems are tugging at their minds. It is her goal to bring teachers and students back to the roots of their purpose as musicians. Pires admits that she has been saddened by the commercialism of the music world and by the young artists who are lacking in dreams of the beauty of the music for its own sake. Too many musicians, she believes, come into their careers because of external motivation. Too many musicians play ultimately to please their parents or for monetary gain, and this is a source of sadness to Pires. The rendition of the music and not the public performance, she believes, should be the musician's purpose. Pires was quoted in the Jerusalem Post, "Being on stage is the consequence of a life's work and not a goal in itself."

by Gloria Cooksey

Maria Joao Pires's Career

Recital debut, age 4; performed Mozart concerto at age 5; early tours of Europe; international tours, 1970 ; British and North American debuts, 1986; U.S. debut, 1988. Repertoire of Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, Beethoven, Chopin; exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon

Maria Joao Pires's Awards

First Prize, Beethoven International Bicentennial Competition, Brussels, 1970; Edison Prize; Grand Prix International du Disque Francais, L'Academie Charles Cros, 1996, 1997.

Famous Works

Further Reading



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