Edison youngster a piano wizard

Staff Writer

Staff Writer

MIGUEL JUAREZ staff Kevin Jang, 9, plays the piano in his Edison home.MIGUEL JUAREZ staff Kevin Jang, 9, plays the piano in his Edison home.

EDISON — When you think of the things the average 9-year-old boy might find important, something like Yu-Gi-Oh! or PlayStation 2 might come to mind.

But Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 12 in A Major? Probably not.

That’s the name of the piece Kevin Jang will perform with the Plainfield Symphony Orchestra on Feb. 29.

You see, the 9-year-old Edison resident is something of a prodigy.

He began studying the piano at the ripe old age of 4, and by the time he was 5, he was being invited to perform in public.

By the age of 6, he was winning awards, including first place at the 2002 Greater Princeton Steinway Society’s Scholarship Competition, first place at the 2002 Piano Teachers Congress of New York Young Pianist Audition, and first place in the 2003 Junior Division Concerto Competition at the Festival "Musica in Laguna" in Chioggia, Italy.

If that isn’t enough, he has performed at such renowned venues as Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, Steinway Hall, and St. Nicolo Auditorium in Chioggia, Italy.

So how does your average suburban 9-year-old become a musical prodigy?

Chance may have a little to do with it.

To hear Kevin’s mother, Sharon Wei, tell it, she was just looking to give him some sort of activity.

"As a toddler, there was not much for him to do. I thought music was a good thing," she said, given that he had shown an interest in music at an early age.

Wei said there is little musical background in the family.

"My husband plays a little guitar, but he cannot even finish a whole song," she said.

"At first, my mom asked me if I wanted to play piano. I said yes," Kevin said, and that led to a year and a half of private lessons in New York City with Elana Lisitsian, a teacher at the Manhattan Music School.

During that time, Wei was informed that her son was in possession of real potential and talent, as well as the rare gift of perfect pitch — the ability to identify and replicate musical notes and keys with the naked ear.

At age 6, Kevin began studying under Yelena Ivanov of Bridgewater, a former professor at the Gnesinsky School of Music in Russia. He continues to work with her twice a week.

Kevin participates in four or five competitions annually, Wei said, and also plays for the senior citizens center in Bridgewater a few times a year.

Stage fright, however, has never been a problem.

"I don’t get nervous, it’s just …" Kevin said, searching for the right words, "people say I play better on stage than in private."

His mother offered the theory that playing for an audience simply makes him more focused. While in Italy, the teachers there dubbed young Kevin a natural performer, she said.

Kevin will next show off his ability when he performs the Mozart concerto Feb. 29 with the Plainfield Symphony Orchestra at the Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church in Plainfield.

The choice is no amateur-hour number, but rather a complex and demanding piece.

According to Wei, his teacher has said that if he can play this selection, "he can probably win anything."

"Some parts are easy, some parts are hard," Kevin said.

A student at Edison’s James Madison intermediate school, Kevin practices about two hours a day. Which begs the question: Does he have any other hobbies or interests?

"I play violin for fun," he said. "I like swimming."

And does the 9-year-old have much interest in current popular music? Is he a fan of rap or rock and roll?

"I don’t really listen to it much," he said, but added that he doesn’t necessarily dislike it.

Kevin said he aspires to a career as a professional musician.

When asked if he’d like to make records and go on concert tours, he said, "I haven’t really thought of that, but since you asked, I’ll say yes!"