Seeing Prisons – Marcelo Brakte and Marianitta Luzzati’s musical vision

Brazilian pianist brings the work of Heitor Villa-Lobos, as he now sees it, to audiences in prisons and prestigious stages worldwide.

In Brazilian prisons there are no life-sentences, and no death penalties; every inmate who is committed will one day return to society. Rehabilitation is therefore a vital but sadly neglected aspect of the penal system, and its very plight caught the attention of the internationally recognised artist Marianitta Luzzati and her husband, Brazilian pianist Marcelo Brakte. Together they devised Cinémusica – Villa-Lobos and Brazil, a series of 110 concerts accompanied by a film of the Brazilian landscape, to be performed in prisons worldwide.

The musical programme is dominated by Heitor Villa-Lobos who, as Marcelo explains, “relates to nature, freedom and the children’s world”. Much of Villa-Lobos’ work draws upon traditional Brazilian melodies and rhythms, and the first performance in the Butantã Women’s Prison of São Paulo brought both tears and sing-along accompaniments from the audience: a first for this pianist who has graced the world’s most celebrated stages, with a recent show at Carnegie Hall in New York.

But Marcelo has another, more personal reason for identifying with this project of visual and musical escapism. Crippled by heavy cataracts since birth, Marcelo was blind for his first 43 years and could see only the haziest of shapes. Hiding his difficulties, his gift for memorising and replicating piano music became his refuge. “Music became my tool of communication with people,” he reveals. He was to give over 1,000 live concerts with sheet music in front of him, secretly playing the pieces by heart.

Following an operation in 2004, Marcelo recovered a much improved vision, “an explosion of colour and joy” he says. He is also, of course, able to appreciate his wife Mariannita Luzzati’s work and draw upon her images in his performance. For Marcelo, the walls around his world have been torn down. With Cinémusica, he hopes to share this feeling with many more.

BOX: Lights, Camarata, Action

In 2007 Marcelo created the Camerata Brasil/Vale Música, an orchestra that brings together classical and popular musicians raised in favelas throughout Brasil. Hailing from some of the poorest suburbs in the country, the group have worked together for several years and have now performed in the UK, USA and Japan. Marcelo discovered real joy in their renditions of his favourite composer, Heitor Villa-Lobos; “they have a slang, a swing in their playing that is completely from the street”. This carnival element is exactly what inspires Brasil’s stand-out classical composer. “All the popular elements [of music] come together for a party,” explains Marcelo. A party to which all are invited.

By Oliver Eccles


2nd Dec, 7.45pm, £12
Purcell Room, Queen Elizabeth Hall – SE1 8XX 0844 875 0073

Leave a Reply