Maria João Pires, piano. Her first public performance took place when she was just four years old and at the age of nine, she received the highest distinction with which Portugal honors its young maturing artists. Her music education at Lisbon's Conservatory was followed by further studies at the Music Academies of Munich and Hannover.
By winning first prize at the Brussels Competition in 1970, held in commemoration of Beethoven’s 200th birthday, Maria João Pires achieved the acclaim that triggered her international career.
Since then, she has regularly toured throughout Europe, Japan, Canada and the USA, and repeatedly appears as guest artist with the world’s leading orchestras including the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, London Philharmonic and the Orchestre de Paris. She also performs at many important festivals such as the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, the Schubertiade Feldkirch, the Tanglewood and Ravinia Festivals in American or the Salzburg Easter Festival, where she had her debut with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and Claudio Abbado in 1990.
Maria João Pires is also a major recording artist (since 1989 with Deutsche Grammophon). Many of her recordings have been devoted to the music of Mozart, the most important being her complete recording of the Mozart piano sonatas. The first release within this cycle, which appeared in 1990, was awarded the Grand Prix International du Disque and the CD Compact Prize. Pires’s recording of Bach’s Partita No.1 was awarded the Grand Prix du Disque 1996 by the Académie Charles Cros. She has also dedicated herself to Chopin with a recording of the Préludes and the Second Piano Concerto with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under André Previn (Grand Prix du Disque Frederic Chopin, Warsaw, 1995) and the complete Nocturnes which was awarded the Record Academy Prize 1996, the CD Compact Award 1997 and the Grand Prix du Disc 1997.
More recent recordings include Schubert Impromptus, Beethoven Piano Sonatas (Moonlight) as well as the Beethoven Violin Sonatas with the French violinist Augustin Dumay.
For Maria João Pires, art is not something elitist, it is a part of life. “The artist has to integrate”, she was quoted as saying in an interview with one of Switzerland’s leading daily newspapers (Zurich's Tages-Anzeiger).
In order to strengthen creative young artists for this challenge in an increasingly difficult context, she founded the Belgais Centre for Study of the Arts on her farmhouse in Portugal to offer an environment which facilitates personal research for artistic creativity. The Centre also runs a school and choir for local children.
In acknowledgement of her contribution to the arts, Maria João Pires was awarded the 2002 IMC – UNESCO Music Prize.