Is teenage pianist Ariel Lanyi a ‘superhuman genius’?

The Israeli musician tells Michael White about why he’s not interested in music as an ‘enterprise’.

The Mill Hill Music Club has hosted plenty of distinguished players in its time, but not too many of them have appeared on TV heralded as “Superhuman Genius”- which was the title of a documentary aired on ITV that featured the disarmingly young Ariel Lanyi: an Israeli pianist who was just 11 at the time.

“They selected five of us”, he tells me on a fragile phone-line from Jerusalem, “people from different parts of the world working in different disciplines. One was a scientist, one a painter, I was the musician. And the idea of the programme was to look at the relative influence of nature and nurture on how people develop. An interesting subject, I think”.

Needless to say, the programme got him noticed. But in Israel he’d been noticed for some time already. At the age of 7 he made his concerto debut with a professional orchestra. Within a few years he was broadcasting on national radio. And with a CV that now includes appearances in New York, Paris, Rome and Prague, it’s astonishing to find that he is still no more than 17: technically a student, just about to start an undergraduate course at London’s Royal Academy of Music.

In fact his new life at the RAM begins the day after his Mill Hill concert (which, as always with these things, takes place at Henrietta Barnett School, Hampstead Garden Suburb). Up to now, he’s been a student at the High School of the Jerusalem Academy. And asked why he chose to relocate to London, his answer is that was drawn here by a particular teacher, Hamish Milne, who is based at the RAM.


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“I met him on a course in Italy”, Lanyi explains, “and it was special: his lessons were eye-opening, I knew at once that he was the right teacher for me. So when he offered to take me, I didn’t hesitate”.

With such a dazzling early start to his career, there’s something else that you’d expect Ariel Lanyi not to hesitate about: the competition circuit. But he’s adamant that settling in London won’t encourage him in that direction.

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“I don’t want to do the competitions”, he insists. “They’re anti-musical. They take the joy, the pleasure out of music and turn it into an enterprise which I don’t like. Playing concerts is enough for me”.

As for the concert marking his arrival here, the programme is Debussy, Mozart, Brahms. Starts 7.30pm, Sunday 6th September. Details/booking: www.millhillmusicclub.co.uk

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