The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music news: Does the adult desire to have child prodigies hurt the children? What about the very young composer whose music got played by the New York Philharmonic? | June 9, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

Child prodigies intrigue, astound and fascinate us, even as they sometimes intimidate us or confuse us.

We wonder what the art world would be without them. And we wonder how they will mature and what they will become.

Most historians seem to agree that the three biggest prodigies in classical music were Mozart, Mendelssohn and Saint-Saens. Beethoven was no prodigy, but his drunken father abused him physically while trying to make him another Mozart who earned big money and fame as a wunderkind.

To be sure, there are some child prodigies who went on to accomplish major and important things. But The Ear bets there were many, many others who didn’t pan out and who were ruined by the adult or parental desire to have talented and gifted children.

Recently, a work by a young – very young – composer got performed by the New York Philharmonic. His name is Milo Poniewozik, a 10-year-old who is a fifth-grader, and his work was performed as part of the orchestra’s Very Young Composers program.

Here is a story with a link to the performance and a story about it:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/06/02/154077432/a-very-young-composer-gets-his-chance-at-the-new-york-philharmonic?ps=cprs

Be sure to check out the many comments from readers and listeners.

Is this just an exploitative gimmick to attract young people to classical music by educational outreach programs? (Some local groups, including the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras, have also performed works by young members and young composers.)

What do you think of the phenomenon of such a young composer?

Is he a flash in the pan?

Or is he the real deal, a promising and talented composer?

Is such public exposure helpful or harmful to the young boy?

The Ears wants to hear.

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8 Comments »

  1. [...] Classical music news: Does the adult desire to have child prodigies hurt the children? What about th… (welltempered.wordpress.com) [...]

    Pingback by To Fill a Gap in Commercial Radio, Classically Trained Apps G Roald Smeets « G Roald Smeets — July 31, 2012 @ 8:56 am

  2. Though he may not be a full-fledged Mozart yet, Milo certainly has an ear for simply chord progressions and musical patterns (I heard it on NPR). Most children don’t ever progress to this level. I am glad that such an esteemed ensemble like the New York Philharmonic would offer to give kids like him a chance to experiment with music. This is how tomorrow’s composers will be made.

    Comment by journeythroughnews — June 12, 2012 @ 5:50 pm

  3. I heard the piece, about 90 seconds long. Mozart’s Symphony No. 1 in E-Flat is a full-fledged symphony in three movements written when he was about eight years old. Symphony No. 1 also shows the influence of C.P.E. Bach as well as his father, Leopold. My nine-year-old is fooling around with Sibelius, a music notation software. I can’t resist the urge to “correct” his mistakes so that his piece “sounds better.” Poniewozik is undoubtedly talented and may become a fine composer someday, but from what I have so far heard, I would be hard-pressed to say he is a musical prodigy.

    Comment by David Jutt — June 10, 2012 @ 6:54 am

    • Hi David,
      Thank you for reading and replying.
      You reply with something very important: comparison and context.
      Your mention of Mozart’s first symphony is especially telling.
      Intellectual and aesthetic curiosity at a young age is undoubtedly important.
      But as you too conclude: Time is the ultimate test.
      There is no predicting where young talent will go.
      Best,
      Jake

      Comment by welltemperedear — June 10, 2012 @ 8:50 am

  4. Is this just an exploitative gimmick to attract young people to classical music by educational outreach programs?
    - No, I think it is a good opportunity. And in some ways, I don’t care what it takes to attract young people to classical music. I think humanity is better off with exposure to classical music for any reason.

    What do you think of the phenomenon of such a young composer?
    - I’m impressed and inspired. I would love to have that kind of bravery to be creative at such a young age and not know intense scrutiny or criticism.

    Is he a flash in the pan?
    - Maybe. Nothing I heard was overwhelmingly great, but I’m sure he’ll go on to have a great career if he can do so in a healthy way.

    Or is he the real deal, a promising and talented composer?
    - To be sure. Why else would his music be ready by the NY Phil?

    Is such public exposure helpful or harmful to the young boy?
    - It depends on his and his family’s interpretation of it. If they make their love dependent on his achievements or if his parents live out their dreams of success vicariously through this boy, then yes, it’s harmful. Someone like this kid will always struggle to feel normal, regardless of his public exposure.

    Comment by Justin Mathis — June 9, 2012 @ 9:42 pm

    • Hi Justin,
      Thank you for reading and replying.
      Your point by point response is excellent and very informative and convincing.
      You make many good points with much to think about.
      One thing is clear: The whole issue of childhood and young talent is not as easy or straightforward as many think.
      Best,
      Jake

      Comment by welltemperedear — June 10, 2012 @ 8:47 am

      • Thanks, Jake. Keep writing! Do you have a list of classical music blogs you read? I am trying to get to know bloggers in that area.

        Comment by Justin Mathis — June 10, 2012 @ 9:30 pm

      • Hi Justin,
        You ask a great question.
        There are too many for me to list.
        But I have several suggestions:
        One: Set up one or more Google alerts for whatever interests you (you can do many). I have several alerts for Classical Music, Classical Music in Madison, Classical Music on TV and radio. They’re easy to do and bring me good stuff. Go to Google and clock on the top for “Alerts.”
        Two: I also highly recommend NPR’s own classical music blog Delayed Cadence. If you go to that blog at wpr.org, you will find a long list of “What We Are Reading” and they have many great suggestions include Alex Ross’s blog for The New Yorker Magazine and pianist Jeremy Denk’s “Think Denk.”
        Third, you can’t go wrong by visiting such well known American media giants as The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.
        Finally, for general news from Europe and elsewhere, I go to Gramophone magazine and BBC Music Magazine, both in the UK. You can Google their websites. Both are terrific for small items, as is the daily briefing in the Arts section of The New York Times.
        Hope that helps.
        Thank you for being such a loyal and energetic reader.
        Hope you wont stop looking at this blog, though.
        Best,
        Jake

        Comment by welltemperedear — June 11, 2012 @ 9:01 am


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