Candlelight Concert Society has introduced Howard County audiences to many young performers over the years, but rarely one as young as 17-year-old Nathan Lee. This precocious pianist gives a recital on Saturday, Oct. 27 at 7 p.m. at Howard Community College’s Smith Theatre.
Even by the standards of talented youth, he stands out. Lee, who lives near Seattle, Washington, started playing the piano at age 6 and then made his orchestral debut at age 9. He was only 15 when he won first prize in the Young Artists International Auditions in 2016.
This career-boosting prize has taken him far in the two years since then. Indeed, Lee made his New York debut in 2017 at Zankel Hall, a smaller auditorium that is part of Carnegie Hall.
Lee has performed in the United States, Mexico, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and South Korea. In our region, he played at the Kennedy Center in Washington.
Where media-related appearances are concerned, he was soloist with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra on the NPR program “From the Top.”
For a performer so young, Nathan Lee already has learned a great deal of the piano repertory. His upcoming Candlelight program consists of Robert Schumann’s Abegg Variations, Op. 1; Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sonata No. 21, Op. 53; Maurice Ravel’s “Oiseaux tristes” and “Alborada del gracioso” from “Miroirs”; Domenico Scarlatti’s Sonata in F minor K. 466, Sonata in E major K. 380, and Sonata in D minor K. 141; Frederic Chopin’s Ballad No. 3 in A-flat major, Op. 47; and Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.
In terms of music history, these pieces encompass Baroque, classical and romantic styles. Asked about that impressive range, Lee replied that he is not intimidated about moving from one style to another within the same concert program.
“The program does span a great range of music history, but at the same time, the pieces are so inherently distinct and unique that I find their stylistic differences are naturally brought out when I perform,” Lee said.
“It is during the process of learning and practicing where the intrinsic styles are learned, and once I feel comfortable with the styles of the pieces I’ll be performing, I don’t find that I need to make too many adjustments during the performance,” he continued.
“While the different composers and pieces are distinct in character, they all share a common goal of telling a story and inspiring listeners. This, to me, is the biggest challenge of performing.”
Music critics writing about young performers frequently observe that while first-rate technical prowess is important, it’s also crucial for such performers to develop an individual “voice” that will set them apart from their talented peers.
Although Lee has thought about this issue, he thinks it would be a mistake to dwell on it.
“I’ve always marveled at the incredibly distinctive interpretations of different pianists, and am working on finding an authentic voice of my own,” Lee observed. “I try not to think about it too much, because otherwise I find myself injecting artificial ideas into my playing, deviating from the composers’ intentions, and imitating others. In other words, I hope to find my natural voice through time and study.”
Nathan Lee is such a busy performer that one can’t help wondering what he does to unwind. After all, this emerging talent is also a teen.
“I love to spend time talking with my friends, reading and keeping up with current events.”
Of course, audiences who follow current events in classical music are now keeping up with Lee.
Nathan Lee performs on Saturday, Oct. 27 at 7 p.m. at Howard Community College’s Smith Theatre, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia. Tickets are $35; children are free. Call 410-997-2324 or go to candlelightconcerts.org