Piano prodigy Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner was born more than 65 years after the Modesto Symphony Orchestra gave its first concert.
Still, when the award-winning featured soloist opens the symphony’s 85th season this weekend, he will do so with a deep reverence for the history and power of classical music.
“I also have a passion for arts advocacy. I do believe we can transcend cultural and political barriers with music,” he said. “There are a lot of examples both inside classical music and outside classical music. Composers and musicians had a social impact, which is something I definitely want to do a lot of in the future.”
For now, the 18-year-old has just begun to pursue his master’s degree at the famed Juilliard School, where at age 14 he became the renowned music institution’s youngest-ever college attendee. Sanchez-Werner began playing piano at age 2 while growing up in Southern California and gave his first professional concert at 6. He was recently named the Gilmore Young Artist honoree for 2014, an award given every two years to the most promising American pianists of the new generation. And he has performed solo for President Barack Obama twice already, once at the White House and once at the Kennedy Center.
“Performing is a euphoric rush, to be honest. To be able to be not only an ambassador for the pieces you are playing but to share such color, texture and excitement with audiences is something I’m very passionate about,” he said from his home in New York. “It doesn’t matter if it is alone or in collaborative moments or with other chamber musicians or with the conductor: Magic happens on stage.”
For the symphony season opener, he will play George Gershwin’s ragtime-themed Concerto in F. Music Director David Lockington will lead the orchestra in a program that also will include Leonard Bernstein’s “Symphonic Dances” from “West Side Story” and a piece by Modesto Symphony Youth Orchestra alum Andrew Norman.
“(The Gershwin concerto) is really one of the greatest concertos of the 20th century,” Sanchez-Werner said. “What I love about it is its meaningful truth; it has everything you’d want in terms of harmonic expression. But it also has a lighter side, a sensuous and very seductive side. ‘Rhapsody in Blue,’ which Gershwin premiered before this, he did not orchestra himself. But this he did and in the real form of a concerto.”
The opportunity to work with conductor Lockington was another draw for the soloist, who performed with him in the past while he was still with the Grand Rapids Symphony.
“I had a terrific experience. This man is truly brilliant, and I’m excited to work with him again,” Sanchez-Werner said. “He is creative, smart and a gem of a person.”
While his goal is to work as a featured piano soloist and composer once he completes his master’s degree, Sanchez-Werner already keeps a busy professional schedule. This semester alone he has some 17 performances slated. In the next three months, he will play three international museums: the Louvre in Paris, the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and the Metropolitan in New York.