The first-prize winner of the 2015 William C. Byrd Young Artist Competition is pianist Baron Fenwick of New York. Baron performed Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 to a welcoming Flint audience at the competition March 7 at the J. Dallas Dort Music Center. At 20 years old, he is a third-year undergraduate student at Mannes College The New School for Music in New York and already has extensive experience as a soloist at numerous concerts, events and festivals around the country as well as other music competitions. This was his second experience in the prestigious Byrd competition, competing previously at age 16.
Baron admits he sometimes still gets nervous when he performs. “I’ve struggled with my nerves for a long time,” he says. “You spend so much time in the practice room working toward something and when you go on stage you want to play your best. At this competition, I went on stage and felt really comfortable.” He credits his supportive accompanist as well as the crowd for helping him perform the piece well, noting that many competitions do not allow the public to come and listen and so he does not compete very often. “With the big crowd, it’s very exciting,” he says. “It helps the performance a lot. I was most nervous when they were announcing the results!”
The winner’s perks include a $6,000 monetary prize as well as the opportunity to return to Flint next April to lead a Master Class and to perform as a soloist with the Flint Symphony Orchestra. “I’m really excited to perform this piece with the orchestra and lead a Master Class,” he says. Baron also plans to earn his bachelor’s degree in music next spring and then start graduate school. He currently teaches four beginning piano students and says he loves how teaching forces him to think about how to explain to others the basics of playing piano.
Baron studies concurrently with Russian-American pianist Vladimir Feltsman and American pianist Susan Starr, and says he feels very fortunate to study under two professionals who play piano with very different styles and techniques. “Having two teachers can be tricky,” he laughs. Susan Starr has a classical American-school traditional style which adheres to the written page, whereas Vladimir Feltsman’s approach allows more room for interpretation, sometimes adding notes. Both instructors have encouraged Baron to develop his own style though, and he strives to do that with each piece he performs.
Originally from Boone, North Carolina, Baron says that neither of his parents are musicians. “It skipped a generation,” he laughs. Both of his grandmothers had musical talent, as well as his two brothers who play guitar. He started playing piano at age five. “My mother thought I’d have aptitude because I sang a lot,” he says. “I always wanted to be a pianist. I took to it early on and always loved going out on stage to perform at school talent contests.”
As a young pianist, Baron was not forced to practice for long hours every day as some musicians do in order to survive in the competitive field of music. He practiced about an hour a day during high school and feels grateful that his parents let him lead a normal childhood while learning the piano.
Baron really enjoyed coming to Flint to compete and had time to visit some extended family members in the area. “The people are so nice around there,” he smiles. “I can’t wait to come back.”
Photography by Mike Naddeo