My Grandmother: My Inspiration
My grandmother was 99 when she died. She had lived a full life in good health until the last months that preceded her death. She was born in 1874 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She could trace her lineage to the Sephardi Jews that once lived in the Iberian Peninsula and who had to move to Brazil due to the Inquisition in the 1500’s. She had only one sister. Their parents raised the two girls, in the manner of cherised Jewish princesses. They learned music, singing, spoke several languages, played tennis and knew all the proper etiquette that needed to be used across cultures. They spent their summers in the Lido in Italy although their main residence was in Rio, where their father owned a jewelry store located on one of the main avenues of the city, the Central Avenue, now known as Avenida Rio Branco.
My grandmother was expected to marry a privileged European suitor, but she loved music so much that she decided earlier in life that she should follow a music career. She had an almost obsessed belief that she was to be a famous concert pianist, and this belief was even stronger felt in her after having met and played piano for Franz Liszt in one of her trips to Italy. She used to talk highly of her meeting with Listz, although she was only a teen at the time, and how his music and conducting techniques influenced her through her life. Her dreams came true and at the age of 32, in 1906, she debut as the first South American women maestro conductor at the Teatro Municipal of Rio de Janeiro, a recently new building inspired in its design by the Paris Opera of Charles Garnier. She performed in this theatre until she was invited to come to China and teach piano and music to the last emperor in 1911. The emperor had to abdicate in the year after she arrived and so her life in China was short lived, although she was to return to Macao and Hong Kong later on in her life. Nevertheless the Chinese culture, the religion, the lifestyle and nutrition was to influence her tremendously in the years to follow.