João Carlos Martins was enjoying a brilliant career as a concert pianist, with performances at prestigious venues such as New York’s 2,800-seater Carnegie Hall, when disaster struck. Asports injury damaged a nerve in his right hand and, at the age of 28, he had to accept that he had lost the ability to play perfectly – even though at an emotional level he still longed to play. He sold all his pianos and reinvented himself, somewhat bizarrely, as a boxing entrepreneur.
While watching the boxers, he was inspired by how they kept fighting despite adversity and hard knocks. He told himself: ‘I am a coward; I gave up too easily and now I’m no longer giving the best of myself’. So he quietly bought back his pianos and began practising again. He found that, by adapting hisstyle of play, he could still produce mesmerising music. After five years, he called his former agent and suggested a comeback. With a feeling of fear and hope, Carnegie Hall was again booked. On the day of the comeback performance, he took a taxi to Carnegie Hall.
The traffic was much worse than usual and the taxi driver said: ‘I have no idea who is playing tonight but he’s surepacking out the whole place!’. That night was the greatest of Martins’ life, as the New York audiences welcomed him back with ovation after ovation. Martins received a recording contract to play all the works of J. S. Bach. But while working on this, disaster struck again. Street thieves mugged him for the sake of his wallet; they hit him over the head with an iron bar. The brain damage affected his playing and forced him to quit.
During a dream he felt that he was told to become a conductor. So, at the age of 64, he took his first lesson in how to conduct an orchestra. His musical talent allowed him to make rapid progress – and he forged yet another career out of adversity. Today, as well as conducting top orchestras, he reaches out to others who are struggling against adversity – to the poor of Brazil who live in slums. Through a Foundation, Martins is aiming to create 1,000 string orchestras throughout the favelas. Martins told at a gathering recently: “Before everything, I love life!”
He then showed his love of life and music by playing a wonderfully emotionally piece of music, with the few fingers that still obey the commands of his brain. And as so often before, he received a standing ovation.