With YouTube and reality TV plucking child prodigies out of obscurity, are kids today finding fame too young?
What did you get up to when you were five or six years old? Most of us were playing with dolls and skinning our knees, but rare talents such as these were touring the world and performing as soloists in packed concert halls. While finding fame as a classical Wunderkind presents an incredible opportunity for any youngster, and gives other children something creative to aspire to, the stressful performances and circus-monkey lifestyle can be damaging for a musician in their formative years.
It used to be just piano competitions and pushy parents singled out as potentially harmful. But in today’s youth-obsessed culture, the pressure to excel at an early age is stronger than ever: in Hollywood, celebrities as young as 11 are parading the red carpet in couture and launching their own fashion labels.
One wonders with many of today’s pre-teen stars in the classical and crossover world: will they burn out too early? And if they remain successful in later life, will they rebel against their uprbinging and wade into artistically questionable waters? (One thinks of German-American violinist David Garrett, who recorded Paganini’s Caprices for Deutsche Grammophon at the age of 14, trained with Ida Haendel and now, aged 31, scratches out Metallica and AC/DC covers in stadiums.) You be the judge: let us know where these munchkins are headed.
Jackie Evancho, 11
Could this pint-sized star be the next Katherine Jenkins or Hayley Westenra? The 11-year-old who became an overnight sensation on America’s Got Talent has sang with Sarah Brightman, sold more than 2 million albums and, in November 2011, became the youngest person ever to give a solo concert at New York’s Lincoln Center, in an almost full Avery Fisher Hall and with standing ovations aplenty. She also had the honour of meeting President Obama and Santa Claus when she performed at the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in Washington last year.
Emily Bear, 6
Despite the sensationalised media claims that she’s the “next Mozart”, there can be no denying the incredibly gifts of this six-year-old. Taken under the wing of Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s principal keyboardist Mary Sauer, Emily has shown jaw-dropping facility in classical music (she has made her concert debut with an orchestra in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 23), jazz and even her own compositions. One to watch… 21 million hits on YouTube can’t be wrong!
Brianna Kahane, 9
This nine-year-old American violinist performed in the farewell season of Oprah and has since been admitted to the Juilliard School and met her idol, Itzhak Perlman. Brianna may dress like a child beauty pageant contestant onstage, but at least there’s some considerable talent on display; in addition, many of her concerts are given in support of charity.
Sally Cooper at 11
This Adelaide-born violinist is all grown up now, and it’s strange to think of Sally flouncing around on Dancing With the Stars after seeing this clip of her performing with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra at the tender age of 11, when her sound was amazingly full and powerful for such a young player.
Jonathan, 12 – Round of the Goblins
Twelve-year-old Jonathan hasn’t done the talk show rounds or recorded a platinum-selling album, but judging by the virtuoso fireworks he displays in Bazzini’s fiendishly difficult Round of the Goblins, he’s headed for success.
Natasha Binder, 10
In her performance of the Grieg Piano Concerto at Argentina’s famed Teatro Colon, this Brussels-born 10-year-old had to shimmy her way up and down the length of her seat to preside over the full range of the instrument.
Melissa Venema, 14
No matter that this young Dutch talent was unearthed by André Rieu – she’s had no trouble making it big on her own, having released three trumpet albums since she was 11. Here she is at 14. The next Alison Balsom?
Elli Choi, 7
This California-based prodigy has travelled the world performing in concert and on television, often accompanied by her pianist mother. In this clip, she can barely pronounce “Sarasate” or “tarantella” through the gap in her teeth, but still pulls off a fierce performance.
Midori at 14
We couldn’t resist throwing in one of yesterday’s prodigies who got famous the old-fashioned way, before YouTube and banal talk show appearances took over. Today, at 40, Midori Goto enjoys a distinguished concert career, but even in her early teens during the 1980s she was already playing demanding solos with Leonard Bernstein at the podium. In this classic performance, a 14-year-old Midori is unfazed at breaking not one but two strings and having to switch violins twice in the middle of some blistering passagework. We also featured this clip in our Classical Fails series.
Isabel Suckling, 13
Isabel “The Choirgirl” Suckling is the youngest artist ever to sign to Decca and seems to be following the path laid out by Charlotte Church. She is a protégée of one the Welsh former boy soprano Aled Jones, who also became a best-selling artist at a young age.