At the end of a long track crossing a typical landscape, where olive groves stretch into the distance towards the faraway hills, lies Belgais, the quiet domain where Maria João Pires shares her lifelong musical experience with close students and friends. It is a magical place with its large cool kitchen, sunny courtyard, and intimate concert hall where two pianos sit majestically among the stone pillars in the filtered light.
I was deeply impressed by the week that I spent with Maria João Pires in Portugal. And as a non-musician and ignoramus about classical music I was surprised by the rich new vision of music that flowed in a subtle way from following the lessons and conversations of Creative Journey. So here are some of my impressions. Creative Journey is an opportunity to enter this world and be part of Maria’s conversation as she shares her insights about music: the essentials of piano playing, subtle advice about interpretation and performance at the highest levels, how to read and understand a score, and above all, how to listen.
Perhaps the deepest joy to be found in this program is that this world class pianist is impregnating us with her unique understanding of music, seeing it as an organic transmission, shared by the composer, the player and the listener, which puts us in touch with what is most essential in our being.
The first section, Life and Music, situates us firmly in this context: Maria shows us how to listen, not just to music, but to every kind of experience, how to use your body and find your flow, and how to understand, interpret or listen to a piece. She explains how her meditative and compassionate lifestyle interacts with her experience as a pianist and discusses the vistas that music and musicianship can offer for a more meaningful life and a better world.
Then there are practical instructions for passionate amateur pianists (still in the last stages of preparation), followed by a section of classes exploring the subtleties of interpretation and performance. It is fascinating to see the difference that a minimal gesture can make to the emotional tone of a phrase, and the way the player has to let the composer’s message flow through them to reach the listener.
The high point of the day in the life of Belgais is the evening concert where Maria and the musicians close to her perform in an intimate setting far removed from the formality of the traditional concert hall. Fittingly, the program culminates in a series of these performances followed by discussions about the composers’ difficult lives and deep inspiration.