A potential star of classical piano has the maturity to wait

June 01, 1994|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

When Terrence Wilson was 10, he became interested in learning to play classical piano. So his mother took him on the long subway trip from their home in The Bronx to Radio City Music Hall -- to hear Liberace.

"Was I embarrassed?" the now 18-year-old Wilson says about his mother's mistake. "No, I thought she was sweet to take me. And I still do.

"She didn't know about Richard Goode, Radu Lupu or Maurizio Pollini," Wilson adds, rolling the Italianate r's in Pollini's name perfectly. "Liberace meant classical piano to her."

pTC Although Wilson will not enter the Juilliard School of Music's college division until this fall, some knowledgeable folks are saying he's in line to succeed the pianists his mother didn't know about. He's already performed with the Cincinnati Symphony and the Buffalo Philharmonic and twice with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Next season he will give a recital in San Francisco in the Herbst Theater series -- the same series that introduced that city's audiences to the young Pollini, Goode and Lupu.

Baltimore listeners can judge for themselves when Wilson plays Liszt's E-flat Concerto with the Baltimore Symphony and BSO associate conductor David Lockington to night in the orchestra's annual "Live, Gifted and Black" concert. (All tickets for the free concert have been given out, but some may be available at the concert).

"It's both a blessing and a problem," says Juilliard and Peabody piano teacher Yoheved Kaplinsky about the combination of her student's two most obvious attributes: his talent and his blackness. "There's no way anyone can deny that he'll have an easier time than many other talented pianists his age. But the fact that he's black doesn't mean that he'll have a career, just that he'll have opportunities.

"He has so many opportunities, but he needs to grow. It's always a balancing act with these talented kids. If you don't let them play, you take away the incentive. They need audiences -- it's part of their makeup. But his talent is real and deep and we've created the kind of schedule for him that will keep him busy and motivated and leave him time to grow."

Kaplinsky first began to teach Wilson almost six years ago when he was brought to her by a well-to-do couple -- a retired professor of economics and his art-dealer wife.

"They loved music and they had fallen in love with the kid and assumed responsibility for his education," Kaplinsky says. "This was a good thing because his parents -- while wonderful, terrific people -- were completely overwhelmed by his interest in classical music."

When Kaplinsky heard Wilson for the first time, she was impressed by his talent but dismayed by his sloppiness. "He was playing almost completely by ear and I thought it would be at least three years before I let him play in public. But once he got on the right track, he shot up like a rocket."

About a year after beginning to work with Kaplinsky, Wilson won the Philadelphia Orchestra Young Artists Competition, winning a date to perform the Khachaturian Piano Concerto with it in a performance that resulted in his being asked back to perform again. At about the same time, he was taken under management ICM Artists, which handles musicians such as violinist Isaac Stern, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Yefim Bronfman.

"The kid's got enormous talent," says ICM executive Douglas Beck. "Fortunately, he's also got the maturity to realize that he needs time to grow."

He also realizes that others need opportunities to grow, too. Although Wilson looks younger than his 18 years, he showed real maturity in dealing with 10-year-olds during a visit to a Baltimore middle school yesterday. The administration and faculty of the Mount Royal Middle School have worked hard to encourage classical music with their students, and it showed in the remarkable playing of the 40-odd students in their orchestra. It also showed in the rough-and-ready give and take of the youngsters' discussion with Wilson and Lockington.

"How many of you practice?" Wilson asked the students.

Almost all hands shot up.

L "How many of you practice every day?" the pianist continued.

All but three hands remained in the air.

Wilson explained that he loved the piano the way Michael Jordan used to love playing basketball, and that was why he practiced five hours a day. When challenged to play something by Beethoven, Wilson sat down to play the last movement of the composer's "Les Adieux" Sonata -- though he had not performed it for two years.

Several students wanted to know how he got his hands and fingers to move so fast, which was exactly the opening Wilson was looking for.

"If you practiced every day, you could do it, too," the pianist said.

"It's part of my civic duty," the pianist says later about such visits to schools, "to talk to kids and try to show them what they can do is an important part of my life. If they'll listen to anybody, it's going to be someone closer to their age, someone about the age of their older brothers and sisters.

"Someone needs to speak about the importance of art and music," Wilson continues. "At a time like ours, when such incredible madness is loose in the world, I think it's important to emphasize the things I love."

Wilson smiles and suddenly leans forward.

"It gives me a lot of satisfaction just to let them see what I'm doing."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.