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Bryan Wallick’s leap of faith

Published May 8, 2016


Christina McEwan

FROM concert pianist to concert artists’ manager as well… that’s the leap of faith taken by Bryan Wallick, who will play Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra in the final concert of the autumn season on May 19.

Wallick, an American pianist who graduated from the Juilliard School of Music, the Royal Academy of Music and finished his doctorate at the University of Pretoria, came to South Africa in 2004.

This was at the suggestion of John Roos, whom he met in Dublin, and who suggested Wallick apply to enter the next UNISA International Piano Competition Roos was organizing.

As luck would have it, the piano detailed to Wallick in Pretoria for practise became the instrument that introduced him to the owner’s daughter, Gina, actually an actuarial student, whom he married within 18 months.

They moved to London, but when Gina fell pregnant 10 years ago with their first of three children, they chose to come back to South Africa… for the birth, then six months, then a year, then the second child and a third, and now 10 years later they simply couldn’t move. Gina runs a nursery school for 80 children and Bryan, well Bryan continues to play …

“It’s not that easy remaining on the international scene, but my New York manager gets me three or four engagements a year in America and I play a lot locally. Most recently I did a recital series in Pretoria and Knysna with soprano Hanli Stapela.

Wallick was the Gold medallist of the 1997 Vladimir Horowitz International Piano Competition in Kiev. He made his New York recital debut in 1998 at Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall and his Wigmore Hall debut in London in 2003 and then established himself on both continents.

In recital, he has performed in Copenhagen, at Ravinia and in many other venues in America. He has also given two solo performances at Ledreborg Palace for HRH Princess Marie Gabrielle Luxembourg, and HRH Prince Philip Bourbon de Parme.

In South Africa, Wallick has performed in recital around the country and also with the CPO, the JPO and the KZNPO, with which he played the same Prokofiev to critical and audience acclaim last year.

But now life has a second dimension … about four years ago Schalk Visser, the doyen of South African concert managers, asked Wallick to join him with a view to Wallick’s taking over the agency. When Visser died last November at the age of 87, he was still not quite ready to fully hand over the reins, so Wallick was handed a challenge and thrust into a steep learning curve.

He is excited about taking Visser’s agency forward.

“I have kept the name, Schalk Visser and Bryan Wallick Concert Promotions, to honour Schalk and what he achieved over the last 35 years. He brought out some of the most important names on the international stage like Olga Kern, Jerome Pernoo, Ilya Gringolts, Antonio Pompa-Baldi, names that performed with all three orchestras and in recital around the country,” he says.

“I love what I am doing despite the odds like the continuously falling rand. While many artists want to come to play in South Africa for reasons other than money, thank heavens, it does create challenges. I hate writing letters saying we have no money but that’s the case for most concert presenters in South Africa. Bringing seven international artists in one season means seven international tickets and fees and, with the reduction of concerts by the Johannesburg Philharmonic, there are now only two orchestras to share the costs with several smaller concert societies.

“If the dates don’t suit the orchestras’ schedules, that’s a big problem and sometimes results in postponement or cancellation of concert tours. Sometimes venues are not available. Occasionally tours hover on the brink for ages, very stressful for us all.”

In the coming months, Wallick is bringing violinist Kristof Barati, who will play not only with the CPO but with the Cape Town Concert Series. In September, he will present another violinist, Sergei Malov, who will play trios with Wallick and cellist Peter Martens.

In 2017, Wallick will bring the winner of the last UNISA International Piano Competition, the Rumanian pianist Daniel Ciobanu.

“I loved his playing in the competition. He is very exciting. I will also present, for the second time, violinist Andre Barynov who will play with his sister, the pianist Maria Baranova; pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi; and a Korean violinist from New York, Rachel Lee Priday.”

Wallick has a yet another dimension – he explores synesthetic realities allowing the audience to see the colours he experiences while performing.

Synesthesia is the ability to experience two or more sensory experiences with one stimulus. He sees colours with each musical pitch and has created a computer program that projects images of his coloured visions to the audience. It’s not possible, sadly, to do this in the CPO concert, but the time will come when he will present this in concert in Cape Town, he says.

Bryan Wallick is looking forward to performing under the direction of Dutch conductor Arjan Tien. “I know so many good things about his accompaniment and I am looking forward to working with him for the first time.”

The concert, which also includes the Passacaglia from Peter Grimes by Benjamin Britten and the Scottish Symphony by Mendelssohn, takes place at the Cape Town City Hall on May 19, at 8pm.

l Computicket: 0861 915 8000.

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