Maestro turns 100 in Falmouth, still plays piano every day

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FALMOUTH — Francis Madeira, a conductor and accomplished pianist, recently celebrated his 100th birthday.

But don’t ask him the secret to a long life; Maderia said he doesn’t know how he reached such a ripe old age.

“I have no idea why I’ve lasted this long,” he said with a grin at his quarters in the Falmouth House, part of the OceanView at Falmouth senior living community.

However, Madeira’s longevity may be rooted in his lifelong love for classical music. He still plays the piano about two hours a day and listens to music at all hours.

Madeira’s CD collection, not surprisingly, includes Schubert, Strauss, Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart and, of course, Chopin. But, he also enjoys choral music and has CDs featuring the Trinity Choir from Boston and a recording of opera legend Luciano Pavarotti in concert.

Madeira had to downsize from a grand piano to an upright when he moved to Falmouth House, but he still gets pleasure playing music every day, except Sunday, which he considers a day of rest.

He has no favorite piece of music or composer, and said that his favorite is whatever he happens to be working on at the time. “It’s my job to conduct the music, not pass judgment,” Madeira said.

His mother first introduced Madeira to the piano when he was 6 years old. So he doesn’t remember a time that music wasn’t an integral part of his life.

He won a piano fellowship from Julliard in 1937 and, in 1940, won a second fellowship to study orchestral conducting.

While still at Julliard, Madeira met his future wife, Jean Browning, who made her debut with the Metropolitan Opera in Richard Wagner’s “Die Götterdämmerung” in 1948.

Following their marriage, the couple often performed recitals together in the U.S., as well as in Austria. In addition, in 1945, Madeira, who’s originally from Philadelphia, founded the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra, which now also includes a music school.

He retired from the orchestra in 1978, but during his long career as a maestro was also a guest conductor with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Dallas Symphony and the Toledo Orchestra, along with orchestras in Evansville, Indiana; Fresno, California and Miami, as well.

Abroad, Madeira was also a guest conductor with the Porto Symphony in Portugal, the Mozarteum in Salzburg, the Tokunstler Orchestra in Vienna, and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

Just like he has no favorite piece of music or composer, Madeira also doesn’t have a favorite concert hall to conduct in.

All he wants is a space with “resonant acoustics, which allows sound to fill the hall, but doesn’t echo. My only goal is to hear properly while I’m conducting.”

The Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra started small, with only about 30 musicians, Madeira said. But, he added, “You can get very good results musically even with a small orchestra.”

In order to have a proper orchestra, he said, the group must include at least eight woodwinds, two trumpets, three trombones, a tuba, a percussion section with a bass drum and symbols, violins, and at least one bass and one cello.

He said the number of strings is “always a great variable, but the more violins the merrier.”

Madeira was born on Feb. 21, 1917, and has no family living in Maine. His wife died in 1972 and the couple had no children.

He came to the state after retiring because he owned a cabin on Lake Arrowhead in North Waterboro and had a long-time love for southern Maine.

Madeira used to come to Maine to vacation with his family as a young boy and also attended summer camp here.

After living in North Waterboro for several years, Madeira purchased a condominium in Yarmouth. But, around that same time he also became an avid hiker and decided to move to Naples to be that much closer to the western mountains.

He initially moved into an independent cottage at OceanView after deciding he needed to be “a little closer to civilization,” particularly medical services. Although Madeira has no children, he does have two nieces and a nephew he still keeps in touch with.

They are scattered, living in Ohio, New Jersey and West Virginia, so Madeira keeps in touch through email. However, he doesn’t have a computer or a cell phone and said he gave up on his computer “because we didn’t get along at all well.”

Madeira also doesn’t watch television or listen to the radio very often. He keeps abreast of current events by reading the newspaper every day.

Although Madeira is connected to the world at large, he said it’s still “all about the music. I was musically inclined as a youngster, so decided to make music my life.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

At 100, maestro Francis Madeira still spends nearly every day playing the piano for several hours in Falmouth.