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Performing Arts Spotlight: Maria Joao Pires and Julien Brocal

By Connor Forrest

I was rash in my youth and often dismissed Beethoven as inaccessible and inapplicable to my grandiose existence. I realize now that Beethoven and I actually have quite a bit in common. For instance, he originally planned to write his last three sonatas in quick succession, but after completing the first, Op. 109, in the fall of 1820, he was side-tracked by illness and other projects. We all know how that goes – the exact same thing happened with my final papers last semester.

Coincidentally, this week’s Performing Arts Series artist has made it her life’s mission to elucidate misguided youths such as myself as to the power of classical music. As part of her “Partitura Project,” a cooperative venture allowing musicians of different generations to exchange artistry and mentorship, world-renowned Portuguese pianist Maria João Pires will perform at the College on Saturday, March 12. She will share the stage with her protégé Julien Brocal in a concert that flits between Debussy, Ravel and Beethoven.

The duo will begin the evening with a beautiful four-handed rarity, the likes of which have not been played on our stage in 15 years. Prélude à l’après midi d’un Faune is based off a poem that was inspired by a painting and has been described as “soft chirps and calls … heard over a syncopated accompaniment, bursting into the wayward panic of a lost bird calls” by John Henken of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The song has been transcribed for a four-handed performance – two people sitting on the same bench, playing different parts of the melody together as 20 fingers dance over the keyboard. The rest of the show will alternate between Mr. Brocal and Ms. Pires, from Ravel to Beethoven and back again. 43 years apart in age, the two master pianists are sure to deliver juxtaposed performances and offer a unique comparison of style.

Henken describes Op. 110, the first piece that Pires will play solo, as “wearily lamenting.” He suggests that the Arioso is “a half-step lower in a symbol of exhaustion … the melody itself is now full of sighs and little gaps, as if the music were short of breath.” If only my professors looked so fondly upon similar qualities in my assignments.

Pianist Alfred Brendel wrote that the conclusion “reaches out beyond homophonic emancipation, throwing off the chains of music itself.” Yes, that’s right, the strength of the hills was Beethhoven’s also.

In addition to these pieces, the concert program will include favorites such as Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata No. 14 and Op. 111 – the final, towering masterpiece whose opening Henken calls “savagely anguished.”

As one of the finest musicians of her generation, Maria João Pires continues to transfix audiences with the flawless integrity, eloquence and vitality of her art. Born in Lisbon in 1944, Pires gave her first public performance in 1948 and has not stopped since, studying and performing with some of the greatest pianists of our time and now sitting among their ranks.

Over the past 40 years, Pires has also dedicated herself to reflecting upon the influence of art on life, community and education. The Partitura Project is the ultimate expression of this love, as it is a shared endeavour with a group of highly gifted young pianists. The aim of this project is to create an altruistic dynamic between artists of different generations, offering a supportive and convivial environment amidst a world too often entrenched in competition.

Born in 1987 in Arles, France, Julien Brocal has been praised by Pires and just about everyone else for his “poetry, spontaneity, restraint and a profound sense of structure and awareness of sound.” He began learning the piano at the age of five and was performing by the time he was seven.

19 years later in January 2013, Pires took Brocal under her wing at the Cité de la Musique in Paris, when she invited him to participate in the birth of the Partitura Project. They have since shared performances and recitals in the world’s most famous concert halls, given workshops and offered educational programs to children, all with the aim of introducing classical music to a broader audience.

This Saturday, March 12, you are that audience.

The Maria João Pires/Julien Brocal piano concert will take place on Saturday, March 12 at 8 p.m. in the Mahaney Center for the Arts. Tickets are only $6 for students. To find more information or purchase tickets, stop by one of the box offices in McCullough or the MCA, or visit go/boxoffice.

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