Doctor's passion for playing piano continues to grow

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As an 18-year-old, Barry Coutinho had to make a big decision: Should he pursue his passion for playing the piano, which won him bronze, silver and gold medals at the age of 11 at the Victoria School of Music in London? Or should he follow in his father's footsteps and become a family doctor?

"In England, students go straight into medical school after graduating from high school, and I just didn't know which way to go," he said.

Eventually, he went into the medical field, not only because it meant financial security but also because he saw how much his father's patients respected him and developed long-term, positive relationships with him.

Dr. Coutinho was born in India, and when he was an infant, his family moved to London. At an early age, he showed not only an interest in playing the piano but also an aptitude for it. While attending high school, he also attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama for four years and then returned intermittently for additional lessons.

As he served his family practice residency in London, his interest in piano continued, and he decided to get a piano diplomacy by sitting for a recital exam at the Royal College of Music. He passed the professionally graded recital with high honors.

He moved to Pittsburgh in 1992 to begin a three-year residency program with UPMC Shadyside, but that didn't deter his zeal for the piano. Currently a clinical assistant professor in family medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School, he still finds time to practice the piano 30 minutes to an hour each day at his home in Mt. Lebanon.

While in medical school, Dr. Coutinho entered a number of smaller competitions and performed in concert settings. In 2010, he won a Shadyside Got Talent competition.

In May 2011, he entered the prestigious Van Cliburn Foundation's Sixth International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs, held in the Ed Landreth Hall at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. The competition drew more than 70 pianists from 23 states and 10 foreign countries.

"It was like a dream come true," Dr. Coutinho said. "We got to play on a new $180,000 Steinway imported from Hamburg, Germany, that had an incredible touch and sound. The hall itself has great acoustics."

Not one to shy away from a challenge, Dr. Coutinho included in his competition repertoire "Gaspard de la Nuit," considered one of the most difficult piano pieces when composed by Maurice Ravel in 1908. When the judges' decisions were finalized, Dr. Coutinho placed third in the competition, and the Ravel piece earned him a prize for the "Best Performance for a Post-Romantic Work."

When Ron Schneider, horn player with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra for 36 years, heard about Dr. Coutinho's accomplishment, he was so impressed he organized a concert to be held at 7:30 p.m. March 2 at Temple Emanuel of South Hills in Mt. Lebanon. Dr. Coutinho will play solo piano works for the first half of the concert and Schubert's "Trout Quintet" with a quartet of PSO string musicians in the second.

"Dr. Coutinho is a superb artist, and the word 'amateur' does not diminish his skill and talent," Mr. Schneider, of Mt. Lebanon, said.

The concert, sponsored by the Diskin Music Fund, is free, but donations will be accepted for Shoulder to Shoulder, a humanitarian organization that provides medical care to impoverished people in Honduras.

"Shoulder to Shoulder was formed by a group of doctors in Cincinnati following the 1998 devastation in Honduras caused by Hurricane Mitch," Mark Meyer, president of Shoulder to Shoulder Pittsburgh, said.

The group from Pittsburgh first arrived in San Jose el Negrito, Honduras, in 2001 and has been trying to improve the health of the 1,600 residents of the remote mountain village and surrounding area with an annual budget of about $65,000, most of which comes from Shoulder to Shoulder Pittsburgh.

"Like any nonprofit, we operate with the help of a group of donors and solicit funds from others," Dr. Meyer said. "Over the years, a number of area churches have been significant donors."

As to his future performing on the piano, Dr. Coutinho said his musical life's ambition has been to play Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 with a world class symphony orchestra such as the PSO.

"Schubert's 'Trout Piano Quintet,' which I'll play at the March 2 concert, is a good steppingstone to getting there," he said.

Dave Zuchowski,, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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