By Lawrence Toppman
A New York Times article last month acquainted me with Alma Deutscher, who at 14 has been writing and playing her own work for a decade.
Writer Melissa Eddy tells us, “In December, she will make her debut at Carnegie Hall, where she will play the solo violin and piano in her two concertos, while the orchestra will play selections from her opera (“Cinderella”) and her most recent work, a Viennese waltz. Next month, she will record a retrospective album with Sony of piano melodies she composed, going back to when she was just 4 years old.”
You can learn more at her YouTube channel, where you’ll get complete performances of her violin concerto – it reminded me of Bruch’s first, which also starts with a slow section — and Mendelssohnian piano concerto. She’s an accomplished soloist and polished composer who grounds her music in 19th-century structures, melodies and harmonic patterns.
The headline reads “A Musical Prodigy? Sure, but Don’t Call Her a ‘New Mozart’.“ Yet it’s hard not to.
Like him, she’s Austrian, a native of Vienna. She plays multiple instruments with unusual proficiency. She writes quickly in various genres. And like him, she has public eccentricities: She goes everywhere with a pink jump rope and skips to provoke inspiration. (Sviatoslav Richter, one of the 20th century’s great pianists, could not play near the end of his life unless his red plastic lobster sat atop the piano.)
Would we be so receptive to her story if she were less pleasantly modest, less photogenic, less young? Would these pieces excite the same interest if she were a 28-year-old New Yorker with purple hair and rings through her nose and lips? Never. This old-fashioned music, coming from such a person, would excite mostly scornful comment or be ignored altogether.
We’re taken with Alma Deutscher mostly because she fuels the myth of genius: God’s finger (or Fate, if you prefer) touched this baby and set creativity aflame. She fascinates us like a lottery winner who never had to buy a ticket: Why should she be so lucky?