Iris C F Gomes
India is very fortunate to have talent galore. From time to time, this is a country that has gifted prodigies to the world. Marialena Fernandes is one of our shining examples in the sphere of music. Her fingers run effortlessly across the piano keys, evoking the classical masters as well as entertaining with improvisational compositions and fusion music. Needless to say, this native of Mangaluru (Mangalore), who has laid claim to her Goan roots, enthralled her audience at the Art Chamber in Calangute in the month of February, 2015. She was in India on tour with the folk group Hotel Palindrome.
Though she was born and bred in Mumbai, she seems to have a strong affinity towards Goa and supports her Goan ancestry, citing her own research and history saying, ‘The Mangaloreans were Goans, who left Goa for several reasons in the late 16th century.’
Marialena’s talent was discovered at a very tender age. She says, ‘My mother reminds me that I dared to correct her wrong note on the piano, when I was just 2-years-old and could barely speak. The wrong note was a C sharp which I couldn’t detect for lack of knowledge. With perfect pitch I could hear that the note was between two notes which I could recognize, the C and the D, so I called it the note in between… This only means that the intensity of musical emotion was already evident.’
She was placed under the tutelage of Miss Joseph at the age of 4 and at the same age she secured the first position in India with honours in the Trinity College First Steps examination. Marialena then began learning music under Teresa Athaide, who would later become the wife of violin virtuoso Melbourne Halloween from Mumbai. But Teresa soon realised she was out of her depth with Marialena’s talent and passed her on to her cousin, Olga Athaide, an international award winning pianist. Olga Athaide went on to become Olga Craen. She remained Marialena’s teacher from the age of 9 to 18 with Marialena completing all the examinations of the Royal Schools of Music, finally ending with an LRSM (Licentiate of the Royal Schools of Music). Marialena says of Olga Craen, ‘A teacher I will never forget, someone who gave me everything as far as artistic proficiency was concerned.’
Marialena attained a BA in Psychology and Philosophy (Honours) from Bombay University with a first class. A scholarship from the Austrian Ministry of Education took her to the University of Vienna for Music and Performing Arts, where she continued her musical education and received her Diploma in Piano Performance with distinctions. She participated in and won competitions, such as the International Beethoven Piano Competition, while she was pursuing her musical education.
Marialena’s renown as an accomplished pianist has led to solo, chamber music and orchestra concerts, including joining the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra on occasion. She has, furthermore, performed at the Salzburg Festival, the Vienna Festwochen and Haydn Festspiele. Her love for classical music comes across plainly as she lists her favourite composers, ‘Without Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven, there would be no classical music. All three are not only my favourites, but these lay the foundation after Johannes Bach for any classical music since.’
Although her base is classical music, Marialena has an appreciation of all genres of music and has a particular passion for fusion, blending classical with jazz and ethnic music. She says, ‘Music for me has no boundaries. There are several sorts of music. If one wants to build bridges then the only way to do that is to break barriers and experiment by taking risks and enjoying the surprising results. There is no such thing as right or wrong, just good or less good!’
She has worked with Hotel Palindrone on fusion music since 2009. Hotel Palindrone is an Austrian band with whom she has performed dulpods, dekhnis, mandos, Konkani and Indo-Portuguese songs of Goa and Mangaluru. Of her interactions with international artistes for fusion music, she says, ‘The minute I work, perform or interact with any artist on an international scale, automatically not only does the artist becomes international, but also the fusion that takes place.’
As a professor of chamber music at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, who has regular master classes and teaches and performs as part of exchange programmes at other universities, Marialena is evidently an enthusiastic teacher. She takes great pleasure in interacting with her young pupils as she says, ‘For me the most enjoyable part of my pedagogical career is working with young people. The refreshing way of interaction, the surprises one gets, the gleam in their eyes and the artistic results when they are convinced, is incomparable.’
Marialena has been visiting India annually, particularly New Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Mangaluru, Bengaluru and Goa, for the last twenty years. It is her belief, based on her observations, that Indians belonging to diverse communities are eager to stoke a widespread interest in music. The origin is less a concern than its quality. She says, ‘It doesn’t matter where the music comes from, whether it be classical, pop, jazz, European, Indian or fusion, India has the power to check it out, make it global and take constructive decisions. This definitely leads to further continuity.’
The tour of South India with Hotel Palindrone was in relation to an educational project in cooperation with the Austrian Cultural Forum and the University of Music and performing Arts Vienna. The project consisted of concerts, workshops and football. It was the result of a vision Marialena has nurtured for the last two years – a vision that emerged from her PhD thesis, titled The Konkani Song at the time of 400 years of Portuguese Colonisation. The research gave her insight into her own heritage. ‘The folk group Hotel Palindrone accompanied me on this tour to Mumbai, Mangaluru, Goa and Bengaluru, where we worked with underprivileged youth. We played and sang for them. It did not matter what type of music, they appreciated everything, were inspired, and reacted with sheer enthusiasm and admiration,’ says Marialena, revealing the depth of her own love of music.