This injured concert pianist thought he’d never play again. A pair of ‘bionic’ gloves changed everything.

30 September 2020, 11:59 | Updated: 2 October 2020, 16:34

Pianist plays properly for the first time in 20 years, with the help of bionic gloves
Pianist plays properly for the first time in 20 years, with the help of bionic gloves. Picture: Instagram / maestrojoaocarlosmartins

By Sian Hamer

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...

When Brazilian classical pianist João Carlos Martins sat at his piano wearing bionic gloves, it was an overwhelming moment for the musician.

For years, Martins had been restricted from playing the instrument he had mastered and adored, 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.

Just moments after taking to the keys to play theAdagio’ from Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in D minor (which takes its melody from Marcello’s Oboe Concerto in the same key), the maestro was overcome with emotion.

This was clearly a long overdue reunion between a musician and the instrument he loves...

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At the end of last year, 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.

Maestro João Carlos Martins is able to fully play the piano again, thanks to these bionic gloves
Maestro João Carlos Martins is able to fully play the piano again, thanks to these bionic gloves. Picture: Getty

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For decades, Martins, who was once a child prodigy, performed as an acclaimed concert pianist and was a celebrated interpreter of Bach’s music.

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”.

Pianist João Carlos Martins played Bach on the piano, with help from these ‘magic’ gloves
Pianist João Carlos Martins played Bach on the piano, with help from these ‘magic’ gloves. Picture: Getty

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.

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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’s 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.

João Carlos Martins leading the Orchestra Filarmonica Bachiana in 2010
João Carlos Martins leading the Orchestra Filarmonica Bachiana in 2010. Picture: Getty

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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 had hoped to play the piano once again at New York’s Carnegie Hall in October, when he was scheduled to conduct a concert celebrating the 60th anniversary of his first performance there.

But with many live concerts being cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, the maestro may just have to play Bach at home for now.

We don’t think his neighbours will be complaining...