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18 November 2022, 17:15
80-year-old maestro João Carlos Martins lost dexterity in his hands, preventing him from playing his beloved piano. But with the help of bionic gloves, the two were reunited once more.
Brazilian classical pianist João Carlos Martins had been left unable to play piano with both hands, after health issues and operations had taken away his ability to play.
But after two decades of limitations, the former concert pianist was finally able to perform again – thanks to a pair of bionic gloves.
Moments after taking to the keys to play the ‘Adagio’ from Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in D minor (which takes its melody from Marcello’s Oboe Concerto in the same key), the maestro was clearly overcome with emotion, in what was a long overdue reunion between a musician and his instrument...
João Carlos Martins, 80, breaks down as he plays his piano with bionic gloves
In 2019, Martins was fitted with the pair of neoprene-covered bionic gloves designed by Ubiratã Bizarro Costa. The gloves, which were specially developed for the pianist, “bump Martins’ fingers upward after they depress the keys”, Associated Press explains.
Before, Martins could only play songs slowly with his thumbs, and occasionally his index fingers.
“After I lost my tools, my hands, and couldn’t play the piano, it was if there was a corpse inside my chest,” the pianist told the publication.
But a number of health issues, injuries and operations led to him being unable to fully play the instrument he had studied since he was eight years old.
He sustained nerve damage in his arm from a soccer injury in 1965, followed by an incident in 1995 with a mugger, who hit him over the head with a metal pipe while he was touring in Bulgaria leaving him with injuries to his skull and brain.
The pianist has undergone 24 surgeries, the latest being surgery on his left hand, which friends expected to “mark the end of his days on the piano bench”.
His limited hand movement meant the musician could no longer continue as a concert pianist. Instead, Martins reinvented himself as a conductor, and since the early 2000s he has led some of the world’s most prestigious orchestras in performances across the globe.
To try and find a solution to his hand problems, the pianist had tried more than 100 gadgets, but nothing had really worked.
But now his new gloves – which cost only about 500 Brazilians reals (£69) to create – have given him a new lease of life behind the keyboard. So much so, that he has become reluctant to take them off, even when going to bed.
“I might not recover the speed of the past. I don’t know what result I will get. I’m starting over as though I were an 8-year-old learning,” Martins said.
The innovative gloves can be tuned accordingly by rearranging the internal pads to play at a faster or slower tempo.
“That doesn’t mean it’s all sorted,” the pianist explained. “The muscle atrophy plays a role. Sometimes I try to play a speedy one and get depressed because it just doesn’t happen yet.”
Martins will take his new gloves to New York’s Carnegie Hall this Saturday, 19 November 2022, 60 years after making his debut at the esteemed venue aged 21. He’ll be conducting the NOVUS NY orchestra, before taking a seat at the piano once more.