Rochester NY: Pianist Fernando Laires passed away on September 9, 2016. A native of Portugal, he graduated with the highest honors in piano performance at the National Conservatory in Lisbon. Post graduate studies were with Isidor Philipp and Alfred Cortot. Fernando was the winner of the Beethoven Medal and the Harriet Cohen International Music Award for his performance of the 32 Beethoven Sonatas at age 19, the youngest pianist who had ever accomplished this challenge. His performing career spanned four continents. He gave solo recitals in major European capitals, such as London, Paris, Lisbon, and Vienna and appeared as soloist with the Vienna Symphony and the Lisbon Philharmonic among others. He concertized throughout China, Canada, the United States and South America. While living in Portugal, he was invited by the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to observe music teaching at major schools throughout the United States.
One of his special interests was furthering the interest in Portuguese music. He served as artistic director for the production of 20 records of contemporary Portuguese music under a grant from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and was co-founder and director of the Pro-Arte Concert Society, an organization dedicated to programing Portuguese music and artists. In 1982, he was decorated by the Portuguese government with the rank of Commander of the Order of Prince Henry the Navigator for his distinguished services to music.
He was a faculty member of the National Conservatory in Lisbon, the University of Texas, Chair of the Piano Faculty and Artist in Residence at the Interlochen Arts Academy and also served on the piano faculty of the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore while also teaching at Çatholic University. His last appointment was at the Eastman School of Music. He was a jury member for many national and international piano competitions, including the Van Cliburn Competition, the Tchaikowsky Competition in Russia, the Casa Grande Competition and many others. He also was the Founder and Director of the University of Maryland Piano Festival and Competition.
As co-founder of the American Liszt Society, he brought a new understanding of the music of this major composer, whose music had suffered as being “too flashy.” Today, Liszt’s music appears regularly on concert programs.
He will be greatly missed by his wife, Nelita True, daughters Suzanne, Barbara, Jennifer and their families. They will miss having this extraordinary man in their lives.