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WQXR Features

1956: Neil Sedaka Plays Debussy and Prokofiev at WQXR

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Over the course of five decades, Neil Sedaka's career has undergone several major phases, including as a teen pop star in the late 1950s, a mature crooner in the '70s and as one of the legendary '60s songwriters emanating from New York's Brill Building. While the public knows him for such pop hits as "Breaking Up is Hard to Do" and "Calendar Girl," less known is his background as a classical pianist who studied at the Juilliard School.

In 1956, a 16-year-old Sedaka was one of 15 young people selected to appear on WQXR's educational competition program "Musical Talent in Our Schools." Sedaka attended the Abraham Lincoln School in Brooklyn where, he was already getting a start on writing pop music -- "ballads and musical-comedy material," as he said in his remarks. But here the precocious teen sticks with the classics, performing works by Debussy and Prokofiev. It clearly paid off: Sedaka won the contest, whose judges included none other than pianist Arthur Rubenstein.

Neil Sedaka's Top Five Works and Performances

1)  Frederic Chopin - Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23 (Vladimir Horowitz, piano)
2)  Gustav Mahler - Symphony No. 5: Adagietto
3) Neil Sedaka - archival recording of Sedaka playing Prokofiev
4) Sergei Rachmaninoff - Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 30
5) Neil Sedaka - Manhattan Intermezzo