Mackenzie Melemed, piano

SPONSOR Ani Kavafian

Mackenzie Melemed’s career can be best described as serendipitous. When Melemed was three, his grandfather bought him a keyboard at a yard sale, leading to his enrollment in a beginner piano course. Performance at local senior centers soon became a weekly occurrence, and by the time Melemed turned seven, he had given over 200 concerts for senior citizens and charitable organizations. When Melemed appeared on The Rosie O’Donnell Show, she remarked, “what a bargain!” at the $1 price-tag for the instrument that ignited his passion for music.

            Melemed was not only interested in the piano, but also in acting. He completed a pre-professional actor training program and appeared in three nationally-televised commercials. He was even cast as the young Mozart on a Discovery Channel documentary featuring famed musicologist Robert Levin. One scene required Melemed to lie in bed with scarlet fever, while another placed him at the harpsichord, blindfolded, performing Mozart’s earliest compositions in full eighteenth-century attire, powdered will and all! Melemed’s final foray into the acting sphere occurred when he was contracted to be the headliner of a talent show at the Tropicana Resort in Atlantic City; at nine years old, Melemed opened sixty-two shows at the famed hotel, performing for thousands on an electric keyboard. These commercials and appearances in Atlantic City paid for a new, shiny Story and Clark upright piano. A series of small local performances connected Melemed with a campaign organizer for President George W. Bush, and Melemed was invited to perform at the White House Holiday Open House for five consecutive years.

            Following a small-town church performance in 2003, an audience member took an interest in Melemed, and soon after a local group of donors helped Melemed afford formal classical training, sending him to study with Olga Rogach in Worcester in 2005. Within a year, Melemed won the grand prize at the Bradshaw and Buono International Piano Competition, resulting in his debut performance at Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall. Melemed was encouraged to expand his musical horizons, and attended intensive summer festivals including Summer Sonatina in Bennington, VT, and The Walden School, a composition-focused festival in New Hampshire. For his music work at The Walden School, Melemed was awarded the ASCAP Irving Berlin Summer Camp Scholarship, resulting in a performance at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

            Melemed’s success at the 2008 Music Worcester Young Artist Competition earned him the support of many new local donors, allowing him to enroll at Bancroft School in Worcester, MA, with nearly full scholarship assistance. Melemed took advantage of the enhanced musical opportunities, performing in a chamber music group and accompanying the school musicals. Melemed performs medleys from Thoroughly Modern Millie, 42nd Street, and Urinetown as a tribute to his Bancroft experience.

            Before heading off to college, Melemed won the 5th Prize at the 2012 Gina Bachauer International Young Artists Piano Competition in Utah. As a result, he was invited to perform in the Czech Republic, Melemed’s first international travel experience. An extended layover in Helsinki piqued Melemed’s interest in one of the most difficult foreign languages, Finnish. After Melemed was accepted to The Juilliard School, he began studying Finnish at Columbia University. Melemed studied Finnish for three years, returned to Finland to meet a pen-pal he had been corresponding with, and gave his Finnish debut recital at a small church. Melemed heard about an upcoming piano competition in Finland and decided to apply. Following two solo rounds, live improvisation, a piano quintet performance, and a piano concerto performance with the Helsinki Philharmonic, Melemed was awarded the 1st Prize and Chamber Music Prize at the 4th Maj Lind International Piano Competition in August 2017.

            Melemed is passionate about performing new and underplayed repertoire. He took an immediate interest in the music of Israeli-American composer Avner Dorman after performing his Three Etudes and winning the Commissioned Etudes Prize at the 2012 New York International Piano Competition. Melemed recently championed Dorman’s Sonata No.2. Melemed programs the music of Medtner, lesser-known Beethoven sonatas, and, more recently, works by Finnish composers. Melemed values education as much as performance, and his verbal program notes often explain compositional styles and discuss historical circumstances behind a work’s conception. Melemed leaves his audience excited about classical music, often eager to further research an intriguing composer or work. 

The 2018 season has included a substantial tour of Finland, including the European premiere of South Korean composer Jeajoon Ryu’s Piano Concerto with Kuopio City Orchestra and Ralf Gothóni, the first performance of Barber’s Piano Concerto with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and Pablo González, a chamber music recital with the New Helsinki Quartet and masterclasses at the Helsinki Conservatory, among other performances. Melemed traveled to Seoul, South Korea, to record the Ryu Piano Concerto with Sinfonia Varsovia and Ralf Gothóni and also gave concerts in Poland, France, and throughout the United States. Melemed will travel in March to Finland for three concerto performances and in April, to Poland, for a tour with KBS Symphony, performing the Ryu Piano Concerto at the Beethoven Easter Festival with Yoël Levi. 

           After being accepted into The Juilliard School’s prestigious accelerated five-year-dual-degree program, Melemed graduated with his Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degree in 2018. Melemed was also awarded the 2018 Juilliard School Arthur Rubinstein Piano Prize. Melemed is currently in The Juilliard School’s Artist Diploma program, a highly-selective two-year program, studying with Robert McDonald and Emanuel Ax. 

          Melemed owes his successes to a tremendous musical upbringing and to the constant support and love from his family. Former teachers include Dean Arvidson, Alexander Korsantia, Olga Rogach and Bill Smiddy. Additionally, Melemed has been honored to work with distinguished artists, such as Vladimir Feltsman, Stephen Hough, Robert Levin, Susan Starr, and Nelita True, among others. Melemed takes every opportunity he can to impact the lives of others with his passion, increasing his odds of heading down a new serendipitous path on his musical journey.