A true representative of Brazil's kaleidoscope of cultures and traditions, Marcelo Bratke has complemented his many accomplishments as a classical pianist with imaginative explorations of music played by samba bands—music representing a world far removed from the refined milieu of classical recitals. He is a pianist noted for his reticence, refined touch, and elegant precision, and for his profound affinity with twentieth-century European music. As an artist he has effortlessly deciphered the many ironies and ambiguities of composers such as Georges Auric (1899-1983) and Francis Poulenc (1899-1963). He would therefore seem to be an unlikely collaborator with Brazilian street bands. Nevertheless, that's exactly what Bratke is. As described by Larry Rohter in the New York Times, in September of 2004 Bratke teamed up with Alex Santos, a young street musician, to present two Brazilian traditions in a concert at Carnegie Hall.
Bratke's "Carnival Trilogy," as the concert was titled, successfully demonstrated that in Brazil, the spirit of music easily blurs the dividing lines between classical music and its urban, folk, and traditional counterparts. The concept of carnival is often considered a quintessential Brazilian phenomenon, and represents a synthesis of seemingly disparate traditions. Imported from Europe, carnival is a time of ritualized revelry preceding the season of Lent in Catholic countries. The event has absorbed many elements of African and Native American folk music, and has initiated a unique musical and cultural tradition. For Bratke, the carnival's musical manifestation represented a true common ground where the cultural and aesthetic boundaries between classical music and folk traditions vanish. Brazil's Carnival, an event originating in the European Middle Ages, also provided an opportunity to showcase Brazilian music, particularly the samba, a dance in which the rhythmic complexity of its African origins blends with Brazilian melodies. The "Carnival Trilogy" included music by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959), as well as composer Ernesto Nazareth (1863-1934), who successfully integrated European musical forms and Brazilian rhythms and melodies. Bratke also included a composition by Darius Milhaud (1892-1974), a composer who lived in Rio de Janiero from 1917 to 1918, and whose works include Brazilian motifs. To emphasize the Brazilian character of Milhaud's work, Bratke added rhythmic interludes during which percussionists improvised and elaborated on the Brazilian motifs in the composition.
Bratke's career has been atypical by late twentieth-century standards of virtuosity. He did not start studying the piano until he was in his early teens, at a time when most young virtuosos are expected to be launching their professional careers. Because he was born with cataracts, Bratke could barely see when he was a child, and he regained vision in one eye only after surgery, later in life.
Bratke's first success as a pianist came in 1976, when he won a prize given by his city's Art Critics Association. After a year of lessons, Bratke delivered an impressive interpretation of Johann Sebastian Bach's "Concerto in D minor," originally written for harpsichord. This award, along with further musical successes, secured Bratke's reputation as one of Brazil's leading young pianists. In 1982 he was admitted to the prestigious Juilliard School of music in New York City. After completing his studies in 1988 Bratke settled in London, quickly establishing himself as one of Europe's most prominent pianists. In addition to performing at such respected venues as the Salzburg Festival and London's Queen Elizabeth Hall, Bratke released several highly acclaimed recordings. The editors of Gramophone voted his album Le groupe des Six as one of the greatest classical recordings of all time. The album featured music by a group of twentieth-century French composers known as "Les Six," who, despite their distinct styles and individualities, were able to foster an openness to jazz and other non-classical modes of expression. The group included composers Auric, Milhaud, Poulenc, and Arthur Honegger (1892-1955), Louis Durey (1888-1979), and Germaine Tailleferre (1892-1983). With the eccentric genius Eric Satie (1866-1925) as their unofficial "godfather," these musicians represented a spirit of open-mindedness, intellectual inquisitiveness, and artistic freedom.
Also faithful to his German heritage, Bratke has explored the austere worlds of composers Alban Berg (1885-1935) and Anton Webern (1883-1945). Firmly anchored in tradition, Bratke has enjoyed the characteristic freedom of an artist whose imagination is not limited by a fear of betraying his traditional roots. He has collaborated with jazz pianist Julian Joseph on the Imaginary Line series of recordings, and with pianist Marcella Roggeri on an acclaimed recording of pieces for two pianos by the American composer Aaron Copland (1900-1990). After winning the Carlos Gomes Award in 2001, Bratke participated in a variety of remarkable musical events, including "400 Years of Modern Music" in London, and the "Festival Transclassiques" in Paris. Other notable projects have included a recording, with soprano Rosana Lamosa, of music by Brazilian composers Vinicius de Moraes (b. 1913) and Claudio Santoro (1919-1989), a musician of many styles and idioms.
For the Record . . .
Born in 1960, in São Paolo, Brazil. Education: Studied piano at Juilliard School of Music, New York City, 1982-88.
Began studying piano as a teenager; won first award as a pianist, 1976; entered Juilliard, 1982; moved to London, 1988; released recording Brasil, 1993; released album Le groupe des Six, which was named one of the greatest classical recordings of all time by Gramophone, 1996; participated in "400 Years of Modern Music" in London and "Festival Transclassiques" in Paris, 2001; teamed with Alex Santos to present two concerts in Brazilian tradition at Carnegie Hall, 2004.
Awards: São Paolo Art Critics' Association, Revelation Prize, for performance of Johann Sebastian Bach's Concerto in D minor, 1976; First Prize, Tradale International Competition, Italy; Carlos Gomes Award, 2001.
Addresses: Website—Marcelo Bratke Official Website: http://www.marcelobratke.com.
(Ernesto Nazareth, Darius Milhaud) Brasil, Olympia, 1993.
(Heitor Villa-Lobos) Caixincha de Música quebrada, Olympia, 1994.
(Alban Berg, Anton Webern) Mutation, Olympia, 1995.
New York Times, September 25, 2004; September 29, 2004.
Marcelo Bratke Official Website, http://www.marcelobratke.com (November 12, 2004).
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