Since 2015, Marialena Fernandes and her students have taken regular trips to the Indian province of Goa. And last year, before the backdrop of Beethoven 2020, they were able to gather some very special musical impressions.

A driving concern of Marialena Fernandes, an internationally active pianist who was born in Mumbai, is to spark interaction between active musicians and interested listeners by motivating the latter to participate.Fernandes’ social engagement along with an intense interest in her own personal roots, both of which figured into her doctoral dissertation, led her to embark upon a unique educational project in 2015. At its core is the music-based dialogue that young artists from India and from Austria can engage in together.

It all began on one of her concert tours to India. In 2005, Fernandes was invited by former school classmates to take a detour to Goa, where she unexpectedly stumbled across a statue of Ludwig van Beethoven one late evening in the community of Siolim. She describes that experience as follows:

“Gigantic leaves, wild trees, lots of weeds in the jungle, until my foot hit upon a stone-like thing. Since I couldn’t see anything in the dark, I had to feel it with my hands; the thing got ever longer and higher until my friends lent me a flashlight and…Oh my God … there he stood, left entirely alone, with a downward but embracing gaze.

My hero, Mr. Ludwig van Beethoven, in Victorian dress and with arms outstretched—in one hand a book, in the other a baton. Thus began my journey to the “B” in India – Goa – Siolim, a fishing village in the country’s north.”

© Marialena Fernandes/privat

The statue had been put up by the descendants of a music-loving homeowner in his front yard. A brief moment of incredulous astonishment was quickly followed by the decision to someday make music in this unique spot.

Back in Vienna, a plan developed to bring students and teachers—including then mdw-Vice Rector Wolfgang Klos—to this place. And from the very beginning, the project’s foundational idea was not only to perform music here but above all to communicate and share it. Support for this Beethoven project was pledged by the Austrian consulate in Goa, local educational and cultural organisations also got involved, and in 2007—within just a few brief days—over 300 young people found their way to something new that would prove to be a source of long-lasting enrichment for all those involved. The musicians from Vienna, for their part, brought with them a Beethoven- and Schubert-centred programme that enthused the audience and animated it to sing and dance along.

As a follow-up, Fernandes initiated “Quest for Passion”, a new series of cultural, educational, and not least social projects for children and youth, in 2015. This has since entailed annual trips by her along with various ensembles and artists to India—first with the group Hotel Palindrone, the year thereafter with the music comedy trio The ThreeX, with the Trio ViennAir in 2017, with Trio Inferno in 2018, and with AMITRI in 2019.

Most recently, before the backdrop of 2020’s Beethoven jubilee, Fernandes took her sixth trip with mdw students to Siolim in Goa—this time together with Trio Sphere. Their programme included Beethoven and Mozart. There was also a performance by the Goan ensemble Ultra Brass Sound (UBS) led by the hornist and guitarist Rui Lobo and the singer Kim Ann Costa, and the evening once again concluded with everybody singing and dancing.

The singer’s comments attest to the event’s success: “The culmination of this musical encounter between the two countries with Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ was a splendid finale.” And Lobo sums up: “It suited Marialena’s project very well because one of the characteristic features of her work in India over the years has been the musical diversity that she brings to each programme. It was sheer joy to have her and her fantastic team train us in workshops as well as through individual instruction. Performing at Siolim with UBS for a big appreciative audience was a musical high point of this year. And our deepest gratitude is owed to Marialena and to all organisations like the mdw, the Austrian Consulate, local Goan societies, and a number of anonymous individuals for supporting such activity. This motivates all of us to aim for excellence.”

The Austrian ensemble Trio Sphere from Vienna was similarly impressed by this trip:

Quest for Passion—a project organised by Marialena Fernandes—took us (Martina Stückler, Mojca Pecman, and Stefan Mancic) on a journey of discovery to India, where we had the privilege of immersing ourselves in an entirely unfamiliar culture with sounds and scents that were new to us. Our trip exceeded all expectations and filled us with wonderful, musical, heart-warming moments and personal encounters. And in the process, a completely foreign world was revealed to us where, in our search for passion, we also encountered Beethoven. As we played, we could feel how the mystical, powerful, and universal language of music united us all at that moment despite the great cultural differences.”

Now, the Quest for Passion goes on: with ardent ambition and great dedication, the pianist, chamber musician, and crossover expert Fernandes is already organising the next trip—with a constant focus on her aim of using music to bring greater depth to the dialogue between people and cultures.

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