But then, Silva has made a career out of scaling musical heights from improbable places. The working-class son of a pharmaceutical representative and a seamstress, Silva's first keyboard was made of cardboard. "They finally got me a real piano on the installment plan," he says.
After studying piano with Italian opera singer Enzo Napolitano, Silva went on to study with Brazilian pianist/composer Amaral Vieira, a protégé of famous Czech pianist Louis Kentner. "Amaral Vieira opened a new world for me," says Silva. "He made me learn a lot of different repertoire, from early baroque to 20th century music. One eventually has an affinity with one composer more than the others, but he taught me that you should try everything."
Trying everything included, at age 23, learning all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas for recital performance in Brazil. "It was a very crazy idea," he admits. "But I was ready to do something crazy. I learned them all over three years. In Beethoven you have a huge convergence of ideas that span 50 years ... but his thoughts don't really change so abruptly. They just evolve into more clarity."
Now, after two decades of playing the sonatas as a group, the mammoth task has become second nature. "I've lived with them for 20 years -- I can't imagine separating them," he says. "The hardest, of course, is the 'Hammerklavier' [a sonata famous as one of the piano repertoire's most difficult works], you burn calories on that one. It's a knuckle buster, but very satisfying to play, because once you know it, it plays itself. You have to practice it so much, and there's something about the sheer physicality of the piece that moves it ahead, gives it momentum."
After successful tours with the Beethoven cycle, Silva added another "complete set" to his repertoire -- the entire piano works of Maurice Ravel, which the French Chamber of Commerce commissioned him to record and perform at age 26. While it seems a stylistic leap from Beethoven's Classicism to Ravel's Impressionism, Silva insists that the differences aren't that great. "Ravel has classicism in his organization and construction just as Beethoven has," he explains.
After coming to the U.S. to pursue his piano studies at the Universities of Arizona and Michigan, Silva discovered Atlanta. "I saw that if I wanted to continue touring, I could fly in and out to anywhere from here," he says. Together with his wife Mireille, also a prominent pianist, he set up a teaching studio seven years ago, eventually settling in Marietta.
"Musicians told me when I moved here that as far as the music scene goes, Atlantans have too much backyard. It took a while for me to see what they meant -- people here tend to have barbeques and all kinds of get-togethers, and music concerts take a back seat to the social life."
Nevertheless, the couple concentrated on their studio, which has produced young concert pianists about to embark on the national scene. Recently, the couple has developed a first-year teaching method which is being published. Silva has a true teacher's pride in his piano studio. "Some pianists say if you teach too much, you don't play well, and if you play too much, you don't teach well. I don't believe any of this. I'm a performing artist who teaches."
But then, Silva's musical attitudes are as broad-based as his musical tastes. He admits to working more of late on popular and jazz arrangements. "I like Broadway, I like Duke Ellington -- I agree with him that there are only two kinds of music, good and bad," he says. "I was listening to Willie Nelson the other night -- what a wonderful musician he is. There are those who don't mix styles well, and commercially speaking you have to do what is right for you, you can't do it all equally well. Embracing the idea doesn't mean you're going to be good at it, but you've got to explore. Nowadays, I even do theater arrangements."
Now 39, Silva continues his affinity with Beethoven in a musical journey that is not only professional but personal. "You've got to do what is in your heart," he says. "Beethoven himself said, 'From heart to heart, you transmit beauty and honesty through music.' Beethoven is alive today because his message is what we're all about. When you're listening to his music, you're getting in touch with yourself."
Francisco Silva performs "2001 -- A Beethoven Odyssey," beginning Sun., Jan. 21, at 3 p.m. at the Woodruff Arts Center's Rich Auditorium, and continuing Feb. 4 and 18, March 4 and 18, April 8 and 22 and May 6. Ticket prices are $200 for the series of eight concerts, $105 for four concerts, $80 for three concerts and individual concert tickets are $29 ($15 for students). For tickets call 678-560-9193.
Killin it. So damn sexy
ooooohhhh, I'm so excited!! I can't wait to see them together!
come on man you know you got a bromance. you probably still rock that OutKast…