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Mark Westling
Vijay Venkatesh will perform at the United Theatre on June 13.

United Theatre ticket lottery this week for young piano star


WESTERLY — Vijay Venkatesh was just 2 years old when he started piano lessons. He was 14 when he made his orchestral debut with the Santa Ana South Coast Symphony in California. Now the 23-year-old pianist, the Birte Moller Young Artist Award winner and 2008 Music Center Spotlight Awards grand prize winner, is about to make his Rhode Island debut — in Westerly.

Venkatesh, an Orange County, Calif., native, will headline the second event of the United Theatre’s 2014 Summer series on Friday, June 13, at 7:30 p.m. A lottery for the tickets will be held Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.

“He is amazing,” said United Theatre Executive Director Simon Holt. “I heard him perform last fall with the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra. He played Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto and was just amazing.”

Holt said most young pianists play the piece loudly and boldly but Venkatesh’s rendition was so lyrical and lovely that the audience exploded with praise.

A woman attending the same concert enjoyed Vankatesh’s concert so much she took to commenting on a blog called “Bubblenews.”

“I was mesmerized as this young man played his heart out,” said the woman, who called herself The Coupon Lady.

“He knew the piece by heart and as his hands flew quickly and energetically over the piano keys, I recognized I was in the presence of musical genius, and I was inspired to live my life to the fullest, as I know this pianist is doing. It was a concert and pianist I will long remember.”

“People were on their feet after the concert,” said Holt who was so impressed he was determined to bring Venkatesh back East.

“So I friended him on Facebook,” said Holt with a chuckle. “He accepted, and we started chatting. I told him what we’re trying to do at the United and I invited him to come and play and he accepted.”

“It all began on Facebook,” said Holt.

Venkatesh, who has played in a number of national and international locations, just finished his first year at the University of Southern California, where he is a student of professor Norman Krieger at USC’s Thornton School of Music.

“Vijay is a unique and special talent,” said Krieger. “He’s elegant, artistic and aristocratic and he has a sensitivity when he plays. I think he’ll have a strong career.”

Venkatesh has already had quite a career, considering his years.

He’s been praised in reviews for his “sublime phrasing, tremendous and powerful virtuosity, beautiful lyricism, and mature and sensitive interpretation” in performances “equaling that of Radu Lupu, Itzhak Perlman, and Andres Segovia.”

“Music and I have been together for most of my life,” said the affable and surprisingly shy Venkatesh last week from his home in southern California.

“Music was in our house constantly,” he continued with a laugh, “my parents are music lovers but they can’t play music so they cultivated music instead.”

“Music was a passion,” said Venkatesh, whose family lived in Providence before he was born while his father, an emergency room physician, was doing a residency at Brown.

Venkatesh, the youngest of four children, learned to play music from his older siblings.

“My brother, Vikram, took piano lessons and would come home and teach me,” said Venkatesh. “I was 2 then, and was 4 when I started actual training.”

His sister Priyanka, a student at the University of California Irvine, is a violinist and the two often collaborate.

Venkatesh, who will be performing as soloist with the Vienna International Orchestra in Vienna this July, said he has a “special affinity” for Frederick Chopin.

“He is a man after my own heart,” said the pianist who counts Israel Philharmonic Orchestra conductor Zubin Mehta among his heroes and who has collaborated with such celebrated conductors as David Stewart Wiley, Toshiyuki Shimada, Ken Lam and Kimo Furumoto.

The young pianist has traveled widely and performed across Europe and India, where many family members live.

Venkatesh says that after he finishes college, he’d like to travel through Europe playing the classical music he loves everywhere he goes.

“If you hold onto the beauty and inspiration and the clarity that is music, you will have an anchor,” he posted on his website. “You will not be too far swayed by what the world is.”

Tickets for the Venkatesh concert are free and limited to two per person. Tickets will be distributed via lottery. Those interested in attending are invited to call the United Theatre lottery line at 401-315-2475 on Tuesday, June 3, and Wednesday, June 4, between 10 a.m. and noon and 2 and 5 p.m. Names of the lottery winners will be drawn and contacted the week of June 9.

The concert can be watched live via webstream or later via webcast.

nbfusaro@thewesterlysun.com

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