It is never easy to say good-bye to a dear friend, but it is especially hard when the departure is sudden and for a lifetime. On August 26, 2014 my dear friend Martín Portugal left this world peacefully and quietly. He was far away from home, but surrounded by his loved ones. He leaves behind his wonderful wife Lilian, and his two daughters Abril and Lucía. His memory will live within all of us who loved him and knew him well, and his legacy will go on through his music.
I consider myself extremely lucky for I was able to talk to him on the phone just a few hours before he lost consciousness. Exactly two months to this day, on Saturday, August 23rd, I called him for his 37th birthday. I make a point of calling my good friends on their birthdays and this year was no exception. Martín was busy that day but he nevertheless answered the phone. Instead of celebrating he was making music, the thing he loved to do the most. “I’m so happy you called right this moment”, he told me. “I’ve been busy with rehearsals all day and I’m about to go on stage in a few minutes”. Martín was about to give a show in Piura, a coastal city in the north of Peru. A consummate showman, all he needed was a guitar, a microphone and his voice to entertain all kinds of crowds with music and jokes. Just a few hours after we hung up he suffered a stroke and was taken to the hospital where he remained in a coma for three days.
Martín was a fervent catholic who had been working with and for the church since he was a kid. His faith, however, was not blind and he had a progressive mindset, but always in line with Christ’s compassionate teachings. He attended mass regularly and all the priests with whom he worked, the school where he taught for many years (Peruvian-Chinese school John XXIII), and his parish always held him in high regard. Martín’s departure shocked everyone, and now, more than ever, I cherish every single word we exchanged on our last phone conversation.
On that last call I managed to tell him how much I loved him, how much I cherished our friendship and how much I missed him. I encouraged him to continue pursuing his dreams and to continue on the path he had started toward a healthier lifestyle. He was working on an orchestration project for which he asked me for help and he shared a ton of other projects he had in mind. I ended the call with a big smile on my face, still laughing at one of his jokes and looking forward to our next conversation. The morning after, I woke up to the news that he was unconscious, and three days later he left us to join the God he had praised all throughout his life.
Martín and I met in 1995, the year I graduated from high school. I already knew I wanted to be a composer back then, so I had started taking counterpoint lessons with Enrique Iturriaga, our teacher and mentor, in a private music school. Martín and I didn’t become friends right away, and we didn’t see each other after we completed the class, but we met again in 1998 when I got into the National Conservatory of Music in Lima. He was a kind and sensitive soul, and he was also incredibly funny. We soon became friends and formed an inseparable group of three along with another friend we met at the Conservatory. The three of us traveled together, made music together and hanged out together all the time. Martín was the inexhaustible source of laughter and also a consummate singer, highly coveted at every karaoke bar we went to. I can’t remember how many times we went back home, late at night, after having hung out together all day and still having the feeling that the day had been inexplicably short.
After I moved to Helsinki in September of 2000 we still kept in touch, often through email, and every time I would come home visit it felt like time hadn’t passed. I listened to his first compositions, I went to his wedding, he played at my sister’s wedding, he slept at my house countless times and we gave each other feedback about our work, always truthfully and respectfully. On 2006 Martín made me a gift that I will cherish for the rest of my life. He dedicated a beautiful song called “Como Fuego de Hoguera” (“Like a Bonfire”) to his two inseparable friends from the Conservatory. I had already fallen in love with that song before his passing, but when I listen to it now I feel as if he’s right next to me, smiling.
Everything happened too quickly and I was unable to fly to Lima. The viewing took place the next day, on a Wednesday, and his burial on Thursday. I thank my parents for representing me, not only by visiting Martín’s mother twice during the toughest hours but also by sending a beautiful floral arrangement on my behalf. My friends in Lima sent me pictures and updates, and that helped me feel like I was part of it. The loss was too great and he left us too soon, but he has left us beautiful music, like this piece for saxophone and two pianos, whose premiere I attended in 1998. He has also left two beautiful daughters whom he loved like nothing else in this world, and he left a huge amount of followers who knew him especially through his work as a Christian singer-songwriter. His popularity extended beyond the borders of our native Peru and the outpouring of love came from a great number of countries, especially in the Spanish-speaking world, where he was widely known among the catholic community.
My dear Martín, your parting has left me with a void that will be impossible to fill. I had never experienced the loss of someone so close and so young, but I have now started to think more about the future, the past and especially the present. We never know when we are going to leave Earth, but you taught us to live fully and in the service of others. You never took yourself too seriously and you always had a kind word for those in suffering. You will always have a place in my heart and I know that wherever you are, you are still doing what you love the most. So long my friend, my brother.