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Out of Portland…. the next Tchaikovsky winner, bar one

Those who applauded our recent discovery that more classical records per head are bought in Portland, Oregon, than in any other US city will find further encouragement in the video that follows, posted on Youtube in the past 24 hours.

It shows a nine year-old boy from Portland, Max Ball, who has taught himself to compose (neither of his parents is a musician). Max is now studying violin with Greg Ewer who says he has never seen a talent like him before. Max will be too youg to enter the next Tchaikovsky Competition and possibly the one after that. When he does, watch out.

On the video he plays his own reduction for two hands of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, a work that gives experienced conductors serious headaches. Max just breezes it. Fasten your seat-belts and switch off all other electronic devices:

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  1. Randy Schoenberg says:

    There is some precedent for this. Diana Dickstein née Steiner was a child prodigy from Portland, Oregon, and at age five was accepted (by Hofmann and Zimbalist) at the Curtis Institute in both violin and piano. See her autobiography at Her sister, the conductor Frances Steiner, was accepted at Curtis at age 8 in cello. See

  2. Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    I think the headline on this item is a bit premature. The Rite of Spring for show-and-tell at school is certainly different; what’s next? Diana and Frances Steiner are good people and good musicians. I hope this young boy develops as well, with or without the Tchaikovsky competition. The following video (a commercial for e-trade) is a comment on the (often) parent driven prodigy.

  3. I had the privilege, yesterday, of hearing a chamber work performed by the Fear No Music Ensemble at Lewis & Clark College in Portland composed by this astounding young talent: nine-year-old Max Ball. The piece I heard was scored for flute, viola, cello & piano and was Mozartean in style—with all the proper voice-leading (at least, as far as my well-trained ears could tell). This was later confirmed by a conversation I had with one of the musicians who had studied Ball’s score. On this video Ball is performing his own arrangement of the opening sections from Rite of Spring. I wasn’t born yesterday, but I have to admit I have rarely encountered a compositional talent on this level before. The question I have: Will he be able to thrive as a composer in a culture that does so little to nurture its most promising musical talents?

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