The Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University has awarded Maria João Pires the $50,000 Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance.

Established in 2005, the biennial Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance honors pianists who have achieved the highest levels of national and international recognition. Previous winners include Richard Goode (2006), Stephen Hough (2008), Yefim Bronfman (2010), Murray Perahia (2012), Garrick Ohlsson (2014), Emanuel Ax (2016), Marc-André Hamelin (2018), and Sir András Schiff (2021).

“I am touched to have been chosen as the first female recipient of the Jean Gimbel Lane Prize,” Pires said. “I am very much looking forward to meeting the students of the Bienen School of Music and working together. Thank you for this honor.”

In addition to a $50,000 cash award, the Jean Gimbel Lane Prize includes a public recital and two nonconsecutive residencies at the Bienen School of Music. During her first residency in April 2024, Pires will engage with students and faculty in activities such as question-and-answer sessions, chamber music coachings, lecture demonstrations and piano workshops. She will present a public recital as part of the Skyline Piano Artist Series on Friday, April 12, 2024. Pires’s second Bienen School residency will take place during the 2024-25 academic year. 

“It is with great pleasure that the Bienen School of Music awards Maria João Pires the 2023 Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance,” said Toni-Marie Montgomery, dean of the Bienen School of Music. “Ms. Pires is an artist of the highest order, and Bienen School students and faculty will benefit greatly from her on-campus residencies during the next two academic years.” 

Maria João Pires

Born in 1944 in Lisbon, Maria João Pires gave her first public performance at the age of four and began her studies of music and piano with Campos Coelho and Francine Benoît, continuing later in Germany with Rosl Schmid and Karl Engel. In 1970, she won first prize at the Beethoven Bicentennial Competition in Brussels.

Following her highly acclaimed London debut at Queen Elizabeth Hall in 1986, Pires appeared in Hamburg, Paris and Amsterdam during the inaugural tour of the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra with Claudio Abbado in 1987. She has since toured or performed with many of the world’s greatest orchestras, including the Berliner Philharmoniker, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, London Philharmonic, Wiener Philharmoniker and Orchestre de Paris, among others. 

Pires has won the Grand Prix du Disque four times: in 1995 for her first Chopin recording, the following year for Bach’s ensemble of Partitas and Suites, and for Chopin’s Complete Nocturnes and Brahms’s Piano Trios with Augustin Dumay and Jian Wang in 1997. Her extensive discography includes recordings for Deutsche Grammophon and Erato.

In 1999, Pires created the Belgais Centre for the Study of the Arts in Portugal. She regularly offers interdisciplinary workshops for professional musicians and music lovers. In the Belgais concert hall, concerts and recordings regularly take place. In the future, these will be shared with the international digital community. 

In 2012, in Belgium, she initiated two complementary projects: the Partitura Choirs, a project that creates and develops choirs for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and the Partitura workshops. The purpose of the Partitura projects is to create an altruistic dynamic between artists of different generations by proposing an alternative in a world too often focused on competitiveness. This philosophy is being spread at Partitura projects and workshops worldwide. 

Pires is the recipient of the Don Juan de Borbón da Música Prize for her artistic and human qualities and the Prémio Eduardo Lourenço for her contribution to the diffusion of musical culture. 

Jean Gimbel Lane Prize 

Established in 2005 and endowed in 2015, the Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance is made possible by a generous gift from the late Jean Gimbel Lane and the late Honorable Laurence W. Lane, Jr. A 1952 graduate of Northwestern University with a degree in art history, Jean Gimbel Lane was a lifelong supporter of the arts.

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