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Maria João Pires

Maria João Pires will lead workshops for up-and-coming pianists and perform in Kalamazoo this month.
Rarely heard in the U.S., Portuguese pianist to teach and perform here

The Gilmore International Piano Festival often presents artists who are not household names but are either on the cusp of major careers — Lang Lang and Yuja Wang come to mind — or have stellar reputations elsewhere.

Portuguese pianist Maria João Pires is among the latter group — she’s renowned in Europe but rarely heard in the U.S. She will perform as part of The Gilmore at 4 p.m. May 21 in Stetson Chapel, on the Kalamazoo College campus.

“She is a legendary figure in the piano world and one of my childhood idols,” says Gilmore Executive and Artistic Director Pierre van der Westhuizen. “She has officially retired, but I thought a great way to connect with her would be around our mission of nurturing young artists.”

Pires will also bring a unique nine-day Partitura Workshop to Kalamazoo this month, joining a half-dozen young pianists she selected who will also perform with her on the 21st. She launched the Partitura concept in 2012 to provide a relaxed, non-competitive environment of collaboration and creativity.

“I don’t like the idea of master classes because it is a little bit stiff,” Pires says. “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. People start to see that there is not one truth in music.”

Van der Westhuizen says of this workshop, “It’s very rare to find a learning environment devoid of competition in the piano world.”

The workshop is scheduled for 9 a.m.–noon and 2–6 p.m. May 17–20 and 22–26 in the Epic Center’s Jolliffe Theatre, and the public will be allowed to watch it. The tickets are pay-what-you-can, with a suggested price of $30 per day.

Pires had been scheduled to perform at The Gilmore’s 2020 festival, which pivoted to virtual concerts.

“We had colleagues from all over the country gobsmacked that she was coming for festival,” says van der Westhuizen, “so to have her for a whole week, working with young musicians on a day-to-day basis, and to hear her play will be incredible.”

For more information on the May 21 concert, the Partitura Workshop and to purchase tickets, go to

Katie Houston

Katie Houston is a Kalamazoo-based writer, communications coach, and marketing consultant.

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