The Moscow-trained pianist was entertaining a full house at the Castel Royal residence, playing waltzes and tunes that struck a familiar chord with the attentive and appreciative crowd.
Then the mood suddenly shifted to one of excited anticipation as 12-year-old Pinchas Antal entered the room to display his remarkable talent.
Pinchas, a student at the Rabbinical College of Canada in Snowdon, played a little something on the violin that was okay, but when he slid onto the piano bench, it was another story.
Totally from memory, the young man offered a skilled performance of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C sharp minor, op. 3. No. 2. He sounded like a professional or master-class student who’s been playing for decades.
Pinchas Antal is the prodigy that pianist Vladimir Krassov discovered and for more than two years has been teaching intensively. He is convinced the youngster has a degree of musical talent that could propel him to an international career.
His dad, Mordechai Antal, president of the 340-member Federation of Teachers of Jewish Schools, was beaming as Pinchas performed to the delight of the engrossed audience.
What is unusual is that young Pinchas only started playing at age 9, when he reproduced the sounds of the scales and melodies his siblings were practicing at home.
“I asked them to teach me the scales, I listened to the music and I tried to figure out how to play it. It wasn’t as good, but I played it,” he said after his performance.
That is when pianist Krassov entered the picture. A friend of the family, he was asked to listen to Pinchas and assess his talent.
“He realized Pinchas had a very good ear, started teaching him, and it started accelerating from there,” Mordechai Antal recalled.
Krassov took the child under his wing, and suggested he play violin to sharpen his pitch.
In his first live recital in May, he performed, without sheet music, a program that included Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier, Vol 1., prelude
and fugue in G Minor, Mozart’s Fantasia in D Minor, Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata, Liszt’s Liebesraum no. 3, in A flat minor, Chopin’s Ballade 1, op. 23 in G minor, Chopin’s Etude 24 in C minor, op. 25, no. 12, and the more modern Scriabin op. 11, no. 10.
“I don’t try to memorize the notes, it becomes ingrained in my fingers,” Pinchas said. He is working on a number of more challenging pieces, including the formidable “Rach 2”—Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto.
The family follows the Lubavitch stream of Hasidism, where it is acceptable for children to study music at a professional level, Mordechai Antal said.
“In the morning I do one hour of scales and various exercises before school,” Pinchas said. “I come home, and play another four hours, including an hour of violin. I also play by myself.”
Krassov, the teacher, is a graduate of the Moscow Conservatory. The family has an upright and baby grand in their Snowdon home.
Krassov and Pinchas use both pianos to play pieces for four hands.
Last fall, Pinchas travelled to Paris to study with the well-known pianist Valery Sigalovitch—a friend of Krassov.
“It was the best piano I ever played on,” he said of the Steinway B he played while there. “The first thing he asked me was to play a scale, and he showed me what was wrong.”
Pinchas is eager to do whatever is necessary to reach his full potential as a musician, but he regrets he didn’t start training earlier.
“If I had started five years ago, I think I would be much more advanced in terms of dexterity. That’s what my teacher said. He said I have done a lot in a few years.”
Sigalovitch concluded that Pinchas has virtuosic capabilities, a very good lyrical ear, and great potential to become a classical pianist. As his playing progresses, the family is looking at having Pinchas pursue advanced studies at the Moscow Conservatory.
In the meantime, a professor at the conservatory will soon start teaching Pinchas, via Skype, how to read orchestral scores, his father said.
For now, Krassov spends eight to 14 hours a week with Pinchas, beyond regular teaching time.
Vladimir Krassov, who teaches Jewish history, is available to sing and perform on piano at senior residences. 514-989-8232.