Irene Ainstein: Music is her First Love

Lynne Booker

Irene Ainstein
Irene Ainstein

Nineteen years ago, Dutch pianist Irene Ainstein accepted the post of educational director at the Algarve Regional Conservatory in Faro and she has never regretted the move from Holland although at the time many of her colleagues thought she was crazy to move so far away from Amsterdam and the Concertgebouw. Many of her former colleagues in Northern Europe now envy her position because she lives in the sunny Algarve and she has a sea view. ´It´s not just the climate and scenery,´ she said. ´It´s the students. In Faro we have some of the best piano students in Portugal and they are so exceptionally well-behaved that I get great pleasure from teaching them.´ The Regional Conservatory is on Avenida Doutor Julio Filipe Almeida Carrapato. Irene also teaches students at the Conservatório in Tavira.

When Irene first arrived in Faro, many of the students at the Conservatório had never seen music performed live. In this respect, the Algarve has changed beyond recognition, and they (and we) now have many more opportunities to attend live concerts. Irene has also organised trips to London and Amsterdam so that her students may attend concerts, participate in music workshops and meet famous musicians. There are regular visits to Lisbon and there is an exchange programme with the Conservatório in Seville. She and Olga Cruz, Vice President of the Conservatório Regional, look forward to finding more opportunities for young musicians to perform both here in the Algarve and abroad as ´Faro has some of the best students in the country at piano and they are able to compete and win competitions at European level.´

Irene is keen to give her students more opportunities to perform in public. She and Oxana Anikeeva, her colleague at the Conservatory, had great success when three of their piano students performed at the Corte Real Gallery in Boliqueime and she is looking at trying to develop exchanges with conservatories in the UK and Holland as well as trying to find more venues here in the Algarve. Upcoming musicians prefer the opportunity to ´try out´ away from their home towns and more experienced musicians find pleasure in the informal performance and extend their repertoires by working with different people.

´If you are in music, then most of your friends are musicians,´ Irene said and she calls on her friends to come from Holland and England to perform here in the Algarve. She programmed classical music concerts for them in the Museu do Trajo in São Brás. Among the friends she has brought to Portugal on this basis are noted musicians such as harpist Erika Waardenburg, oboeist Ernest Rombout and violinist Katharina Krueger-Magiera. ´My musician friends like to come to the Algarve to combine performances with a holiday.

Irene makes time in her busy schedule to return to the stage as a player. ´It gives my students so much motivation when they see their teacher performing,´ said Irene. ´It also keeps me on the qui vive. If you have a performance coming up, it really sharpens your reactions´. English born and a Dutch national, Irene won first prize in a competition in the Netherlands for Young Musician of the Year with only a year´s piano study. After High School Irene entered Het Twents Conservatorium where she obtained the diplomas for chamber music, accompaniment and solo playing. She has benefitted from studying with leading pianists such as Johan Jansonius, Karl Heinz Kammerling, Marie Françoise Bucguet and Jan Wijsi. Irene has performed in Germany, England and China, but her most prestigious venue so far is the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. 

In the Algarve she continues to perform, first with members of the Orchestra of the Algarve and second she gives regular concerts with the soprano Birgit Wegemann. Birgit loves having Irene as an accompanist, ´not just because she is such a good accompanist. She is practical as well; she always has lights, chairs, spare copies of music just in case the set up isn´t as it should be for a performance!` Irene also plays piano duets and has performed twice in São Brás with Johan Jansonius. Irene was invited to play last year to for a group of visiting doctors at the Benamor Golf Club. She adores playing outside despite the additional pressure of keeping the sheet music in place! Having said that she performs at private parties in people´s homes which she enjoys as the setting is more intimate. 

Luckily for me, Irene still takes pleasure from giving private piano lessons. She says ´one of the reasons I never moved from the Regional Conservatory was that I always had new students and I liked seeing them make progress. I couldn´t bear the thought of not being there for them right to the end. I feel the same about the people of all ages and abilities that come to me for tuition.´ The students I spoke to at the Conservatório, Afonso Carvalho de Matos, aged 11; Paulo Jorge Cavaco Santos, (16) and Inês Alexandre Silva (12) agreed that Irene always appears happy, calm and in a good mood. I agree. Even his late beginner at the piano not feel too threatened playing in front of a concert pianist!