Six of the best... musical child prodigies
We look at six young musicians who are amazing audiences with their precocious talent
The young Mozart famously thrilled 18th century society with his dazzling performances and advanced compositions; Chopin published his first piece aged seven and began performing one year later. Evgeny Kissin, Daniel Barenboim and Martha Argerich were all impressing audiences on the concert stage under the age of ten. Child prodigies have been astounding us with their rare talent for centuries and many go on to be the definitive musical stars of their era. We look at six young musicians who are already making a name for themselves in music, the ones to watch for the future.
Aksel Rykkvin (13) – Soprano
Singers often make headlines much later due to the dangers of training young voices, but Aksel Rykkvin is most certainly an exception. The young Norwegian boy soprano may be only 13 years of age, but he has already recorded with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, sung with the Oslo Philharmonic and performed for the Prime Minister, Crown Prince and Princess of Norway. Widely praised for his richness of tone and instinctive, innate musicality, Aksel gained prominence when he won first prize for his age group in the 2014 Norwegian Music Competition for Youth. The jury described him as ‘a rare musical talent’ and a ‘master…with formidable artistic ability’. As his voice deepens with age, Aksel hopes to pursue a musical career as a tenor or countertenor.
Alma Deutscher (11) – Composer, pianist & violinist
She has been christened the new Mozart, but it seems that Alma Deutscher, a prodigiously talented 11-year-old, would just rather be herself. When asked about the comparison, she said, ‘I actually think that if I was again a little Mozart then it would be a bit boring…I would write exactly what Mozart had written before. I think I would prefer to be a little Alma.’ The comparisons are unsurprising, however; Alma started playing the piano at age two, the violin at age three, and was soon was improvising little melodies. A piano sonata followed at age six and a short opera at age seven. Hers is a truly remarkable talent: not just an impressive violinist and pianist, she is a gifted composer, writing music that has been praised for its complexity and maturity. Daniel Barenboim said of Alma, ‘Everything that cannot be learned, she already has.’ In 2016, her new full-length opera, Cinderella, will be premiered in Vienna. It is clear that Alma won’t be living in Mozart’s shadow for long and is very quickly becoming an artist in her own right.
Alisa Sadikova (13) – Harpist
This young harpist was discovered six years ago when a family friend, renowned harpist Olga Shevelevich, taught her a piece of music, which she picked up on the spot despite having never touched the instrument. Now 13, she has performed at Carnegie Hall, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Hall and regularly performs at festivals around Germany and Russia. Shevelevich, who is harp soloist at the Mariinsky Theatre and also one of Alisa’s teachers, immediately knew that she was a great talent and has said, ‘I’m still struck with awe every time I hear her play. Only a genius can do what she does.’
SooBeen Lee (16) – Violinist
SooBeen Lee, now 16, has been stunning audiences with her musical maturity, flawless technique and beautiful tone for years. In 2012, she came second in the junior section of the Yehudi Menuhin Competition, and in 2013, at the age of 13, she won the junior section at the International David Oistrakh Violin Competition. She has attracted the attention of Kyung-Wha Chung, the renowned Korean violinist, who admitted to being ‘astounded’ by her playing. SooBeen began playing the violin aged six, having badgered her mother for lessons. Despite her success and remarkable playing, SooBeen doesn’t seem to let it go to her head: ‘I don’t think I’m a genius. If I practise a lot, I do well. If I don’t, I fail.’ Her teacher seems sensitive to the challenges of nurturing a young talent and encouraged her to turn down, for now, an offer of representation from the same agency that represents Itzhak Perlman and Sarah Chang, two of SooBeen’s heroes: ‘We need a few more years for her to mature, for her to know herself and to be able to handle all that a professional musician should be ready for.’
Kevin Chen (10) – Pianist
Ten-year-old Kevin Chen can solve a Rubik’s cube in 44 seconds, but amazingly this is not his greatest talent. The young pianist has been attracting headlines in Canada, where he was named in CBC’s Top 30 Canadian classical musicians under 30 in 2013; he was the only one under ten. Kevin started in the way that many others do, picking out tunes on a keyboard as a toddler, but his enormous talent meant he quickly outstripped others. Aged eight, he earned an associate diploma at the Royal Conservatory in Canada, the youngest person to do so. Kevin is not only a pianist, but also a composer, and he has already written three symphonies and nearly 80 other compositions. When asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, Chen answered ‘musician’; when asked for a second choice, he answered, ‘musician’. Musician it is, then.
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Alasdair Howell - Pianist. Age 11.
If anyone knows about being a child prodigy, it’s Lang Lang, so when he marks out a young pianist as a future star, the public takes notice. This year, Alasdair Howell, an 11-year-old from London, joined the superstar on stage at the Royal Albert Hall at a special concert for the Lang Lang International Music Foundation, where he performed Mendelssohn’s Rondo Capriccioso and duetted with Lang Lang himself. This is not the first time the young talent has performed with the famous pianist, however. Selected by Lang Lang to feature in CNN’s Ones To Watch documentary last year, Alasdair played with him in Berlin in 2012 and performed a solo at the Royal Festival Hall in 2011, aged just six years old, as part of Lang Lang’s Piano Day. His composure and musical maturity at the keyboard is seriously impressive and is already leading to exciting engagements, but the young talent seems to take it all in his stride: ‘It is a hobby, but I like it very much and I think it’s part of me.’