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We would be failing in our duty not to point out what was truly newsworthy in this event, what was in fact the 'moral of the story' -- facts which the Ambassador only hinted at in his sympathetic introduction of the talented young artist. Only as the evening progressed -- perhaps to do with the sometimes tentative nature of the playing -- did my mind go back to a story which I had heard when I was in Chile doing concerts myself -- of a young piano student of the University of Chile's Faculty of Music who had got herself involved in a political demonstration against the then regime of Pinochet outside the Teatro Municipal in downtown Santiago during which, as it turned ugly, she had received a bullet (whether stray or intentional) which had lodged in a life-threatening portion of her brain producing instant hemiplegia. Emergency operations followed her instant committal to hospital but soon the newspapers had moved on until it became only another apocryphal story as if it had never happened. Could this be the same María Paz? Only later was my intuition confirmed: after hanging on by a thread she had afterwards, against all the odds, taught herself to play the piano all over again -- a living symbol twice over of her refusal not only to submit to persecution but even to the consequences of her first refusal.

Carrying, as she does, the bullet still lodged in her head and capable of provoking her death at any moment, this pianistic revenant has every reason to claim Parra's Gracias a la Vida not only as her encore but as her signature-tune! Just as the Ambassador stood before us as a worthy personification of post-Pinochet Chile, restoring its humane credentials among the nations, so had she too become a self-appointed musical Ambassadress not only of her native land, which had treated her so inhumanely, but of the entire continent of South America. The ovation of the audience was a salute to both these admirable ambassadors who had, each in his or her own way, done so much to strengthen our belief in the human condition and its power to triumph over oppression.

María Paz Santibáñez with Ambassador Moreno
María Paz Santibáñez with Ambassador Moreno

I almost forgot to add that the proceeds of the concert are to go to the Chilean Foundation for Youth Orchestras, set up by Señora Luisa Duran de Lagos, the wife of Chile's last President and continued by its first and present Woman-President Michelle Bachelet -- at a time when our own Youth Orchestras in this country are being steadily undermined by our government's philistine withdrawal of free instrumental tuition in primary and secondary schools. Another lesson that Chile, from whose economic miracle Mrs Thatcher and her Chancellor were to learn so much, can yet teach us!

Copyright © 6 February 2007 Malcolm Troup, London UK


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