BEST & BRIGHTEST | 2.22.20 | THALIA MARA HALL | 7:30 PM
International concert pianist Anton Nel takes to the piano bench and the stage with a gusto that got an early start, and a deep love for the music he’s always thrilled to share.
The guest artist is again a star attraction in Jackson, now in his third appearance with the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra. This time, he’ll shine in Bravo’s Best and Brightest concert, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22 at Thalia Mara Hall, with Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto. Known as The Emperor, it will open the evening in grand style, with Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 bringing the night to a cheery, lyrical close.
Nel will be back in Mississippi in late March for a public masterclass and recital at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg.
Signs were evident early that the piano would be Nel’s path. A native of Johannesburg, South Africa, he grew up hearing his mother’s skilled playing and her beautiful voice. “I remember hearing the piano being played, I think, even before I could speak. She was never my teacher, but she played the piano a lot in the house, so I would often go to the instrument and imitate what she was doing,” he says.
His family lived on a farm, about two hours from any big city, so he started lessons at a local music school at age 10. Nel relished performing, “even at the smallest little kiddie recitals,” he says, recalling one telling story from his mother. “I think it was maybe even my first little concert where all the kids from the local music school played a piece in the class recital. I had something — a Beethoven piece I think — that was probably 20 seconds long. … My mother said that I played it, and then I waited for about two seconds,” he starts to laugh, “and then I played it again!”
At 12, a competition win put him on the big stage, playing Beethoven’s C Major Concerto with the Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra. The experience — onstage playing with dozens of musicians in the orchestra, the audience, the ambiance — “That was one of the most definite things that made me think seriously about continuing and having that be my life.” Commuting to Johannesburg for lessons, he was playing professionally by age 14, and snapped up first prizes at all the major South African competitions.
“In those years, there were so few distractions. That’s what I did and I didn’t have any extra curricular school activities or sports or college-level mathematics,” Nel says. “I practiced and took lessons and had wonderful opportunities and great guidance. I couldn’t have scripted it better if I wanted. I was just really lucky.”
Nel’s winning streak culminated in first prize in the prestigious Naumburg International Piano Competition at Carnegie Hall in 1987.
He has a dual career in performance and teaching, with a worldwide touring schedule and a music faculty post at the University of Texas at Austin. Among his own teachers was the “absolutely amazing” Adolph Hallis, who’d had a major career in Europe and could trace piano lineage clear back to Beethoven. “Just being under his guidance made me realize how important it was for me to pass on this tradition.” Nel’s been a college teacher since his early 20s. His first job was at the University of Texas in 1986, after finishing graduate studies at the University of Cincinnati.
The acclaimed Beethoven interpreter revels in a composer who broke the mold. “Everything that he wrote, during the time when he was alive, was so original and so revolutionary and to this day, they still sound that way,” Nel says. “Everything about him has always been fascinating to me” — his remarkable life, his late-in-life deafness and particularly the careful markings he made in his music. “A lot of composers didn’t write anything or were too lazy to write. But, Beethoven was one of the first meticulous ones."
“And then of course, I really, really love his music and I’ve been studying it all my life. And I feel a strong affinity to it when I play it.”
Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto is the composer’s grandest, most majestic, beautiful and regal, Nel says, “and also very, very brilliant."
“It’s a piece that everybody knows and loves, and I think it’s just one of the most exciting and fun concertos I know to play,” with a middle movement that’s one of Beethoven’s most beautiful, he says.
“It’s a stunning concerto … and something that I’m very much looking forward to.”
BEST & BRIGHTEST
2.22.20 / Thalia Mara Hall / 7:30 pm / Jackson, MS
Tickets $27 & up: buy here >
students/children (ages 4-18) $5
Ludwig van Beethoven, Piano Concerto No. 5 in Eb Major, Op. 73 Emperor
Anton Nel, piano
Antonin Dvořák, Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88
Concert sponsored by: Selby and Richard McRae Foundation
Anton Nel's appearance made possible by:
Jeannette G. Walker