Brazilian pianist eager to share his art at Miami Piano Festival

May 16, 2012
By Dorothy Hindman

Fabio Martino will make his South Florida debut Saturday night at the Miami International Piano Festival.

The face of young Brazilian pianist Fabio Martino lights up when asked about his Saturday program for the Miami International Piano Festival’s Discovery Series, which opens Thursday evening and runs through Sunday at the Colony Theater in Miami Beach.

Speaking from Germany via Skype, with his shock of curly brown hair and wide smile, Martino seems like any excited 23-year-old preparing for his first trip to Miami.  But beneath his excitement is the confidence of a veteran artist with a new perspective to share. This comes through loud and clear as he describes his approach to Beethoven’s warhorse, Piano Sonata No. 23, Op. 57, the Appassionata.

“It’s very difficult as a young artist to play such a masterpiece, because normally people have ideas about details that they like, and sometimes they don’t accept new ways of playing it, but I don’t care.  I play it anyway.  I play it the way I feel it.”

In addition to the Appassionata, Martino has selected a number of lesser-heard works that he is passionate about for his program, including Beethoven’s Fantasia, Op. 77, and Ravel’s piano suite Miroirs.

“It’s a very complex program, but very beautiful and very interesting,” says Martino. “People don’t play the Fantasia much, and it’s a pity, because it’s so wonderful.  I show the world of Beethoven in this compact, ten-minute piece.  With Ravel’s Miroirs, normally people only play “Une barque sur l’océan” or “Alborada del gracioso,” but I’ll do the whole suite.  It’s nice to play such a masterwork in concert; people usually play Gaspard de la nuit or La valse instead.

“To finish, I chose Scriabin’s Sonata No. 5, from his transitional period between tonal and atonal.  It’s amazing to hear the Ravel and Scriabin; they are very good together and connected, but they have such a huge contrast between them.”

It’s exactly that type of freshness and imagination in programming and style that the festival’s artistic director Giselle Brodsky wants to showcase with the Discovery Series.  “It’s not very easy to find the type of individual, exciting pianist we want.  There are a lot of young pianists winning competitions, but you always want to find someone that has something special, that has nothing to do with age or maturity. It just has to do with being born that way.”

Brodsky believes all of the young pianists coming to the Discovery Series this week have that something special.  In addition to Martino’s Saturday concert, the series will feature German pianist Joseph Moog, who will open the festival Thursday night, and French pianist David Kadouch on Friday. Moog was named the International Classical Music Award’s 2012  “Young Artist of the Year,” the same award Kadouch won in 2011.

Martino made his own splash in 2010 by taking first prize at Brazil’s most important piano competition, the BNDES International Piano Competition “Guiomar Novaes,” in Rio de Janeiro at age 22.  After talking it over with his teacher, Martino decided he was ready to take on the challenge.  “I thought, I’m still young, let’s see what happens.  I’d never played a big competition like this.”

To his surprise, Martino made it all the way through to the finals where he played Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2.  “When they announced my name through to the finals, my heart was beating and I thought, ‘My God, really?’ It was a shock, but very nice.”

“When I played the finals, the theater was very crowded, but also full of friends. You can imagine me, as a Brazilian guy, in the finals in a Brazilian competition.  It was very difficult but it was so beautiful, so nice for me.”

Brodsky recalls watching a DVD of Martino’s winning performances.  “The first person that came to my mind was [Venezuelan conductor Gustavo] Dudamel.  It was that kind of energy, you just don’t know where it’s coming from.  There was something so natural, nothing artificial. It was just coming out of him.  There is nothing generic about him. ”

When Martino was 14, a national piano competition allowed him to study for two months in Karlsruhe, Germany.  There, he met Sontraud Speidel, who ultimately would become his mentor.  “It was love at first sight.  We really connected with each other.  The things that she said to me at 14, and her interest in my playing, I remember it was very interesting.  We were always in contact, sending emails and writing.  But because I was too young to stay alone, and my studies weren’t finished, I couldn’t stay in Germany.”

After finishing his studies in São Paulo, Martino spent two years at university studying conducting, but ultimately decided that he needed to go abroad to expand his artistic horizons.  A sponsor, Paulo Bilyk, offered to pay for his studies to return to Speidel’s studio at the Karlsruhe Music University, which he happily accepted.

In May 2011, Martino was the unanimous winner of Munich’s “Ton und Erklärung” International Music competition, where he had to both perform and speak after each work about his interpretations.  In the final round, he played Beethoven’s Concerto No. 5 with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Ulf Schirmer.  “I remember I called my teacher and I said, ‘My God, I can’t play with them.  It’s just like driving a Mercedes or a BMW!’”

Martino is quite confident, however, about how his Discovery Series program will go.  He has already performed it at festivals in Heidelberg, Berlin and Baden-Baden.  “I’m really happy with it, because I saw how people interact with the music and all the transitions and passages.  The most curious thing is that the program is like a vacation.  It’s like I take the hand of the audience and say, ‘Let’s fly together.  Let me show you all of this beautiful world.’”

Fabio Martino performs music of Beethoven, Ravel and Scriabin 8 p.m. Saturday at the Colony Theater in Miami Beach. The festival opens with Joseph Moog Thursday night, followed by David Kadouch on Friday, Fabio Martino Saturday and a Tribute To Beethoven on Sunday with Kemal Gekic, Francesco Libetta, Misha Dacic, and Eric Ferrand-N’kaoua. 800-745-3000;

One Response to “Brazilian pianist eager to share his art at Miami Piano Festival”

  1. Posted May 16, 2012 at 11:22 pm by Sylvia

    As a teacher, I particularly resonate with Martino’s final statements about the program being like a vacation. I tell my students that they must be like a tour guide, showing the tourist listeners all the most beautiful and interesting places and things.