Maria João Pires discusses her Partitura project

Author: Amanda Holloway

Pianist Maria João Pires continues to captivate audiences all over the world. In the next few months she will appear with leading orchestras such as the Boston Symphony and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe conducted by Bernard Haitink, and the Orchestra of La Scala, Milan conducted by Riccardo Chailly.

But she has also found time to create a unique musical project called Partitura, based in Brussels and featuring seven exceptional young pianists and Pires herself. It’s an experiment that marries social activism with shared musical experience, as Pires and Julien Libeer, one of the group, explain to Amanda Holloway.

Maria João Pires: The concept is very simple: it’s about sharing. Music is something that cannot exist without sharing, and in our difficult times you need projects that everyone can share – different generations can share different kinds of music with people that have no access to concert halls.

It started in my mind a couple of years ago, to encourage sharing between musicians, whether or not they are well-known. The star system is a reality, whether negative or positive, we have to cope with it. Instead we have to create an alternative, to find systems that are different, that can be a real position for a musician, which is more a mission than just a profession or a job.

It sounds very holistic and organic, but does Partitura have a formal structure?
We are trying to give a form to it, slowly, because at the moment it is still a concept. We have seven young musicians and we are all one group, it’s not the young people and me. We have behind us more than 20 concerts and many more coming up.

Did you handpick the young pianists?
We didn’t audition in an official way. There were many people who wanted to work with us, so we organized three days of workshops, we listened to them, we worked with them and talked to them, because it’s also about a mentality. The Partitura project should not stay only on stage, it should be in social projects, it should be in prisons and hospitals and places where children have problems. We want to take music to people who never go to concerts. We have to learn what is the best way to transmit not only an idea but to transmit the source of music in a very pure way, instead of thinking how much money we can raise. Of course this is also important, but it should come in second place.

Where are you based?
Now we are resident at Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel, in Brussels, but in the future we will be resident everywhere! I hope it will get much bigger. This group should stay as a founder group, because it’s the fruit of a couple of years of thinking, and of working together. Each of them has something to say and can act as advisers in the future.

How is it working day to day? Are you tutoring or giving masterclasses?
Julien: Be careful, she’s allergic to the word masterclasses!

Julien Libeer

Maria: I don’t like the idea of masterclasses, because it is a little bit stiff, it’s one who knows and the others who don’t. And this doesn’t correspond to reality, because the people who are teaching, they are learning at the same time.

In Partitura we do everything… everybody plays, everybody talks, gives an opinion, says something. In the workshops, instead of having one teacher we have three from the group, so that the ‘main’ teacher…as in the masterclass… loses a lot in power. This is a very good thing because then the interaction starts and people start to see that there is not one truth in music.

Julien, how is it different from your previous teaching situations?
It’s a difficult question! Maria is not the person who will teach you how to play scales. She’s the ideal person to turn to when you know your instrument and you have something of an idea of where you want to go but you’re still a bit too close to the score. And she pushes you away, not away from the score, but from everything superfluous.

It’s been more of an experience in general than teaching experience, because it goes way beyond piano playing. Maria is a living example to us, and she questions us all on the nature of our ambition, where we want to go. For me working on the Equinox project, with unhappy children, has been a real eye-opener. So Maria won’t teach you how to play scales but she will open your eyes to scales and everything else around, which was exactly what I needed.

Do you feel lucky to be part of Partitura?
What a silly question! Of course I do, very lucky.

Maria, what do you hope for your Partitura group?
I hope the project will spread, in the sense of being really useful for many other people. And I’m counting on them, the first group, because we are experiencing this in the beginning. The way we have been taking decisions and hearing everybody’s ideas, I hope this can spread so that we can find in music again something that serves people in general.

With such a successful international career, how do you fit in the time for Partitura?
This is not so easy for me and I’m trying my best. It’s also their work, not only mine. We have meetings, we have workshops, we work together, we play on stage together. This is enough for them – for us – to start seeing a bit further.

This summer you are playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.23 in Boston, Lucerne and at the Proms on 28 August. Is that a particular favourite?
It has a sublime second movement.  And it has something different from other concertos… I think it is the only one in which the second movement is an Adagio. It’s an Adagio full of silences and space and I think you have to experience it, to listen to it because it’s a very special piece.

In her first Boston Symphony Orchestra appearances since 1999, Maria João Pires joins conductor Bernard Haitink for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A, K. 488, on 28 April, 1 and 2 May 2015. More details > 

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