Winston Salem Journal

Sept. 25, 1994

Simon Tedeschi, 13, is a pianist to remember

by Gordon Sparber

It is not overtone's idea of a good way to spend nine days on the sunbaked island of Sicily, the largest and most historically richest in the Mediterranean. But listening to young people pummel pianos from noon to midnight has it's advantages even in such a place. One is the chance of encountering Simon Tedeschi, a 13 year old from Sydney, Australia.

The scene was the third annual IBLA GRAND PRIZE, a piano competition held in the tiny Sala Borsellino-Falcone. The hall can stretch to hold maybe 120 if a few dogged souls choose to make standing space by pushing aside yellow drapes that close seats off from the noisy lobby. The hall is buried under the clusters of 17th and 18th century stone buildings that crowd the little threads of streets. The rocky town of only 80,000 lies just a few miles from where Ionian and Mediterranean meet at Sicily's southern most tip. Hearing this kind of piano playing in this kind of setting is amazing.

It is , I imagine, like the opening of an ornate and ancient casket only to find it stocked with glittering gems. Tedeschi was the rarest of the gems in this casket. He is a mere wisp of a boy(he could easily pass for 9), with penetrating eyes. He came to enter five of the competition's seven categories for classical pianist. At 13, he came in just under the wire for category A, which require that the entrants be born in 1981 or later. In the adult competition he competed against pianist in their 40's. He played and played and played during the week. It seemed that even after hours on stage, having swum through seas of music, he could have gone on playing(from memory, mind you) forever. Thus young pianist who has been studying since the age of 6, did not shrink from demanding pieces. He played complicated Bach (The Chromatic Fantasy and Fuge), large Mozart (the last sonata) Liszt's etude "La Legierezza", Poulenc's Concerto. He played Schubert, Beethoven, Debussy, Chopin, Mendelsshon, Rubinstein, Villa Lobos, Shostakovich, Australian modern Larry Sitski, Balakirev, Prokoviev. With the first notes of his first performance- the B flat minor Prelude and Fugue from Bach's first book- Tedeschi cast his spell, confirming a long held belief that you can tell a true artist within five minutes. I have never heard such subtle control of line, such proportion, such a complete mastery of space from someone so young. Technically the playing was nearly faultless and refined to an unusual degree. The fingers cut perfect pearls of Mozart's scales; The hands dropped into beautiful balanced sonorities; Bach's voice mingled freely and clearly; Villa Lobos' splashy effects splashed; Chopin's delicate mazurkas were pedaled with a painter's ear- these all showing as technical apparatus as I have heard.

Tedeschi did not win out over a few of his adult competitors for two reasons, as far as I could figure out. One was that he could not yet deliver such bear like works as Liszt's sonata or Mussorgsky's Picture's at an exhibition, two staples among the elders. The other was that he favored retiring pieces, or takes a retiring stance where he could just as well be assertive. His playing, even so, sticks in the mind as the most special of the competition. The most astonishing aspect of it, what's more, has nothing to do with the above. Yes, he's musical. Yes, he;s a technical wizard. Yes, he has the brain power. But all of that would mean little were it not for his clear joy of being on stage. Tedeschi has the rare ability to make listeners come to him when he plays. He spaces everything with the comfortable knowledge that he will be paid attention. Thus, the slow movement of Mozart's K 576 sonata, free form jittery insecurity or bashfulness, hung in the air with exquisite, motionless beauty.

There are reasons why I go on about Tedeschi here. The IBLA GRAND PRIZE has strong North Carolina connections. Salvatore Moltisanti, the competition's founder, studied at the North Carolina School of the Arts and his teacher here, Eric Larsen, has been a member of the competition's jury since its inception. Both Elon College and the Arts school have official connections with the competition and its performance prizes. Since Tedeschi is a prize winner, it is likely that Winston-Salem will get to hear him soon in person. Whether Tedeschi appears here soon or not, however, he is one to remember and watch. This kind of talent-enabling a boy to assimilate the experience of a grown up and express it with musical authority- is not the kind to wash out early. It is the other kind that grows.

One way or another you will hear about him again.