Interview by Esther Basha (MBGH)
I met Fabio Martino (MGBH) at Aventura Performing Arts Cultural Center during the Miami International Piano Festival. His performance style was impressive, intriguing, and very original. So, I felt compelled to interview him and share his story with our readers.
PPM: Fabio, how did you get involved with the Miami International Piano Festival?
FM: This is a very interesting story. In 2010 I won the BNDES Bank Competition in Brazil. There were videos of my performance online. Miss Brodsky found these videos and, I think, she was impressed with what she saw. So, I’ve got an invitation to come to this concert series in Miami. The first time was in 2012 where I performed a solo recital. We liked each other very much from the very beginning. In 2014, Mrs. Brodsky invited me to come back and perform at the Aventura Concert Series – Sundays at 5. My performance was very well received by the audience. And this year, I was invited again and honored to open the Festival.
PPM: So, let’s go a little bit back in time ….. where did you grow up?
FM: Sao Paolo, Brazil. I lived in Brazil until I was 19 years old and then moved to Germany. I started playing piano when I was five years old. We used to listen to classical music – LPs and CDs. My grandmother had an upright piano and used to teach her students at home. So, this is the way I got in contact with classical music.
PPM: Was she your first teacher?
FM: She has never been my teacher, actually. But she advised my mother to find a teacher for me. At the age of five, I had private teachers, and then in 1997 I was accepted to a very good school where I studied with professor Armando for 11 years. Later, in 2011, I moved to Germany to go to the university. I studied there for six years and graduated. And now I take the time for myself to learn and discover the piece. Everything that’s behind the score: the notes, the life of the composer.
PPM: Do you have any siblings? Can you tell us a little bit more about your family?
FM: Yes, I have a sister. At that point, when I was five years old, she was having classes with my grandmother. Maybe I was jealous (laughing)…. I also wanted to have classes. We love each other. Eight years is a big difference, but now we are much closer because we are both adults. She is a doctor, she still lives in Sao Paolo with her own family. Every time I come to Brazil for concerts, she along with my whole family enjoys coming to my performances. My mother also used to play the piano. So, I do come from a musical family. She is not a pianist though. She has taught college level math. My father is an engineer with no music background.
I always loved to perform in public. My teacher in Brazil used to say that I played better for an audience than I played for him in class (laughing)…
PPM: What was your first public performance like?
FM: I was six years old. I always loved to perform in public. My teacher in Brazil used to say that I played better for an audience than I played for him in class (laughing)… I like contact with the audience. This is something very special and very important.
PPM: So, were you nervous when you went on stage?
FM: I am always a little bit nervous when I go on stage, but I like this feeling. It’s the feeling that makes you feel alive.
PPM: How old were you when you participated in your first competition?
FM: It was in 1997. I was nine years old, and it was a magical experience. I went there to play, and I won. And I used to participate in many competitions. Up until now, I won more than 20 international and national piano competitions.
PPM: So, are you used to the process of competing by now?
FM: Yes, but I wouldn’t exactly call it competing. It was more like learning the repertoire that you are going to play at the competition and practicing the piece in order to have a chance to perform it there and let’s see what happens. But the work is very competitive; it’s just the way it is. There are a lot of pianists, so you have to be and play the best you can. And I think I have done so well, because I have always played with love and my emotions. It has always been the Fabio Martino way of playing.
I won several very important international piano competitions. For example the competition of the BNDES bank, the biggest Latin American piano competition. At that time, it was back in 2010, I was then 22 years old, the prize was $48, 000 US Dollars. In the final round I competed against a Japanese pianist who was 28 and a Russian pianist who was 29. It was a really high adrenalin experience for me. But it was very nice and also very important. Just one year later, I won the Piano Competition organized by The Association of Arts and Culture of the German Economy, a very prestigious international competition. With the prize money I won I was able to buy my first piano. My Steinway. That was a dream come true.
I think I have done so well, because I have always played with love and my emotions. It has always been the Fabio Martino way of playing.
PPM: When I watched you perform, I could not help noticing a… pantomime. You were laughing, you were smiling, you were looking everywhere around you. It was the first time when I saw a piano performer with such rich facial expressions and such a wide emotional range. And it wasn’t just unusual, it also was very entertaining. I was looking for something more than an ordinary performance. Your performance style, with your interpretation, an added emotional play made the performance extraordinary. What goes on there when you talk to all those invisible people and who is it that you talk to?
FM: (Laughing)… Well, actually, I have no idea… When I play, I am in a kind of trans. I feel like I am in another world being in a deep and profound contact with music. And the things that happen just reflect the way I am feeling the music at that moment. And that’s why it sounds so natural because I am not inventing or trying to invent something; this is the way I am feeling at the moment. And if this is a true feeling, the audience will be able to connect to it. So, for example, when I played Chopin, I tried to feel the dance. As I was going through a search process, I saw how people danced the mazurkas, I saw how they danced the polonaise. And, so I started to think how Chopin would feel that [in order] to compose it.
PPM: So, were you imagining a ballroom full of people dancing?
FM: Of course.
PPM: And Beethoven… what did you imagine there?
FM: Well, Beethoven is one of my favorite composers. He was a genius who revolutionized music in the way of thinking and the way of composing. He demanded the best from everyone. And that is why I appreciate Beethoven and his music. It touches me very much. His “Appassionata” is like a psychodrama – changing moods from very aggressive and hard to very soft, delicate. It’s an angel vs. demon. A very complex story… But you can only understand this piece if you read about Beethoven and his story. What he composed before and after that. The context is very important. Otherwise, you don’t have fuel for your imagination; you don’t have a very good solid base.
When I play, I am in a kind of trans. I feel like I am in another world being in a deep and profound contact with music.
PPM: How do you get connected to the audience and what’s the difference for you between playing solo performances vs. playing with an orchestra?
FM: I love to play for the audience. It’s all about the exchange. Exchange of moods, experiences, feelings, and energies. This is what happens when you play for an audience. And when you play with an orchestra, it’s an energy exchange between everyone: musicians from the orchestra, conductor, public, and pianist.
PPM: Does it matter what you wear during a performance? You have such an appealing romantic image with your curly hear, a beautiful tuxedo, and a colorful bow tie. Will the audience ever see you in jeans?
FM: No (smiling), the audience is not going to see me in jeans. I always wear my tuxedo, and it’s the way I feel comfortable playing. And it’s a kind of respect that I feel for the audience, for the music, for the composer. I feel very comfortable this way. Ever since I’ve been a child, I’ve always worn my bow tie. And I’ve always tied it myself.
PPM: How many bow ties do you have?
FM: A lot. A whole collection.
It’s all about the exchange. Exchange of moods, experiences, feelings, and energies. This is what happens when you play for an audience. And when you play with an orchestra, it’s an energy exchange between everyone: musicians from the orchestra, conductor, public, and pianist.
PPM: Let’s talk about Fabio Martino – the person. What do you do when you don’t play piano?
FM: I go on walks in the forest with my dog. Her name is Wanda, and she is a springer spaniel. She is so sweet. She sleeps under the piano. She loves to listen to music. Sometimes she sings with me. Every time I am done, she knows that this is the end of the last page. So, once I am finished she comes up to me to get petted.
PPM: Where in Germany do you live?
FM: I live in Karlsruhe, in the south of Germany, very close to France, between Stuttgart and Frankfurt.
PPM: What do you like to eat? What is your favorite food?
FM: Oh, my. I eat everything. (Laughing). Too bad… I need to be more careful. I like eating out in a nice restaurant, but I also like to cook.
PPM: What is your specialty?
FM: I cook both German and Brazilian food. There are two dishes I like to cook. One of them is called feijoada. It’s a typical Brazilian dish with black beans and meat inside. I also enjoy cooking moqueka. This dish is from Bahia. I cook it with coconut milk, tomatoes, and paprika. And you eat it with rice and bananas. It maybe sounds strange, but it’s very delicious. I have a sweet tooth, also. Normally, after a performance, I eat a piece of cake.
PPM: Do you have an agent or manager?
FM: I have a Personal Manager in Germany that takes care of all my contracts and financial matters, and I am the one who stays in direct contact with theaters, conductors, and orchestra directors to handle performances. It’s a bit more work for me, but it makes me happy, because I love to stay in touch directly with the people. I have representation in Mexico as well.
PPM: So, what’s next? What performances are coming up?
FM: I have a lot of work to do because the next season is fully booked and I´m happy to play 11 different Piano Concertos with Symphony Orchestras in Brazil, China and Germany. Among others Beethoven Nr. 1 and Nr. 5, Mozart in C Major, Rachmaninov Nr. 1 and Paganini Variations, Prokofiev Nr. 2, Villa-Lobos Nr. 5, Gershwin´s Rhapsody in Blue, Ravel G Major, to name a few… I´m very happy and proud about this!
PPM: Thank you for the interview, Fabio, and we hope to see you again soon back in Miami.
FM: Thank you!
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