The music he plays casts an image of a seasoned pianist with a talent steeped in years of ritual practice and performance.
Contrasting that image is the 12-year-old prodigious pianist Kevin Chen, who will take the keys alongside the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra for Prodigy! in Kelowna March 9, Penticton March 10 and Vernon March 11.
“I’m always skeptical about these prodigy stories. There’s no question they’re talented, I just wonder if they have something to say musically,” said OSO musical director Rosemary Thomson. “He really does have something to say.”
Chen, a Calgary product, first picked up the piano at age five. And, when he was eight-years-old, Chen attained his Associateship with the Royal Conservatory and was named to the top 30 classical musicians under 30 list.
“He became the youngest person in history to get his associateship,” said Thomson, who got her associateship at age 18.
The highest academic standings granted by The Royal Conservatory, associateships are the equivalent of a diploma in post-secondary education.
Now, four years and more than 80 original piano works written, Chen dabbles in writing orchestral work and has caught the attention of Thomson, who has kept a close eye on Chen for the past three years.
“He wrote a piece called Loud Sense,” Thomson said, adding that she expected a light and colourful composition from the young talent. “He wrote a piece about post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s a very dramatic piece.”
But, before Okanagan audiences get a taste of his original compositions, Chen will perform a classic and complex work from perhaps the most well-known prodigy: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
“Right away, he knew which concerto to learn,” Thomson said. “He has such a knowledge of the repertoire.”
Chosen by Chen, the 12-year-old pianist is set to perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20.
“He’s really looking to express something quite soulful,” Thomson said. “Sometimes, these kids have such a fascination (surrounding them) because they’re cute. Once they reach adulthood, they struggle to sand out for different reasons, but I don’t feel that with Kevin. His passion for the music, for me, is what’s interesting.”
Moreover, Thomson believes Chen’s prowess will inspire Okanagan pianists, young and old, to push themselves to new heights in their craft.
“We’re always looking for that way to motivate our kids to practice,” Thomson said, adding that while not everyone will posses the inborn talent of someone like Chen, practicing the craft can help muster an appreciation of prodigal composers. “I hope that every pianist in the valley will be at the show because he will be such an inspiration.”
In the second half of the performance, the orchestra will perform Igor Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite, likely written by the widely-influential Russian composer during teenage-hood.
“It sort of applies to this theme of youth who have matured beyond their years,” Thomson said.
And to that end, Thomson said, Chen is the perfect fit.
“I think he’s really going to leave people speechless, not just because he’s an anomaly, but because he’s an artist.”
The OSO presents Prodigy, the fifth edition of the Chase Wines Masterworks Series, at the Kelowna Community Theatre March 9 at 7:30 p.m., Penticton’s Cleland Theatre March 10 at 7:30 p.m. and the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre March 11 at 7 p.m. Tickets for all shows are available for $56.25 adult, $49 senior and $26.75 student online at www.okanagansymphony.com.