Top Five Piano Prodigies

Monday, January 17, 2011

Imagine if YouTube had archival footage of the five-year-old Mozart performing his own compositions at royal courts around Europe. Between television reality shows and online video, a new generation of preternatural talents is finding its abilities are instant exposed worldwide. As we celebrate the current class of the keyboard world this month with our series Powerhouse Pianists, here are five up-and-coming prodigies -- and recent prodigies -- who could be selling out concert halls in the years to come.

1. Benjamin Grosvenor first rose to consciousness as an 11-year-old cherubic faced pianist winning the keyboard final of the 2004 BBC Young Musician Competition. Now he’s 18, with a Carnegie Hall debut, performances with the London Philharmonic and Tokyo Symphony, and tracks on the EMI Chopin 200th anniversary CD collection under his belt. The Independent’s classical music critic, Jessica Duchen, wrote that he has “an instinctive imagination for sound, colour and phrasing, plus delicious virtuousity.”

2. The Chinese-born Yuja Wang, started playing piano at 6, was enrolled in a conservatory at 7, moved to North America at 14 and was accepted to the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia at 15. Now 23, and the latest recipient of an Avery Fisher Career Grant, she already considered by some as the successor to Lang Lang (five years her senior).

3. Only 9 years old, Emily Bear already has a career most pianists would envy. She played the Ravinia Music Festival (she is the youngest musician to perform there), the Bush White House and performed for Ellen DeGeneris (she’s been on the show six times) and Lang Lang all by the time she was seven. In addition she’s recorded five albums all featuring her own compositions that range from classical to jazz.

4. Kit Armstrong is an 18-year-old polymath who composes and performs as a pianist when he’s not contemplating advanced math and science problems (he enrolled in college studies at nine). As a musician, he’s performed with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland. This year he will be performing with his frequent collaborator, the cellist Adrien Brendel, and will premier works written for Till Fellner and the Szymanowski Quartet.

5. If you were to combine the charisma of Victor Borge, with the flashiness of Liberace, added cross-genre appeal of Wynton Marsalis and then condense it into a nine-year-old’s body, you’d have Ethan Bortnick. He is already headlining a cross-country tour and has a PBS special, “Ethan Bortnick and his Musical Time Machine.” A deft showman, he nimbly jumps from playing Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca to accompanying Gloria Gaynor to a pretty decent Little Richard impression, complete with sequined jacket.

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Comments [1]

Michael Meltzer

At 23, Yuja Wang neither belongs here, nor does she need this, or the comparison with Lang Lang, who is still proving himself. Her CD that you featured was top-notch, and has musical and artistic merit without comparisons or novelty pigeonholing.
Lang Lang has begun playing chamber music with the best of the best, that assures he will continue to grow.
Your programming is not a race or a contest, it is a continual search for meaningful emotional experience through listening. The more, the better.

Jan. 18 2011 04:59 AM

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