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Charlotte and Franz: A Tale of Two Pianists

October 15, 2018

Charlotte Wong was born in 2002.

Franz Liszt preceded her by two centuries, born in 1811.

And yet the two share important distinctions: both are pianists and both have Oct. 22 as their birthday.

This came to light when the pre-college student of Corey McVicar at the S.F. Conservatory of Music, played Liszt’s Paganini Etude No. 6 for a national audience in January on NPR’s Live From Here (née A Prairie Home Companion) with Chris Thile.

Following up on her big debut, here are the current facts: Charlotte is from San Mateo and attends Aragon High School. She plans to go to college “somewhere in the East Coast,” thinking of a double major in engineering and music.

The connection with Liszt? It goes back a long time: at age 5, Charlotte started playing the piano — just as Liszt’s father started teaching him in Hungary. From the beginning, Charlotte maintained a strict practice regime of 20 hours a week.

Then about three years ago, McVicar, her piano teacher, introduced her to Liszt’s Paganini Etude No. 6, and she became fascinated by the difficult virtuoso piece:

I listened to recordings of it, and as the music score hadn’t arrived yet, I actually learned most of the piece by reading the score on one of the videos on YouTube.

Although I was a bit discouraged by the sheer difficulty of the piece, I was able to overcome it by persevering through the toughest part, which was learning all the notes.

I was enraptured not only by the technique difficulty of the piece but also Liszt’s amazing ability to transform a melody written for the violin into a piece written for a completely different instrument while preserving its singing melodic lines and also creating hidden passages within the piece.”

Soon after that, Charlotte also began working on Liszt’s Paganini Etude No. 2, “a really fun piece to learn,” and Liszt’s Rigoletto Concert Paraphrase, “which allowed me to learn how to imitate a human voice as best as I could on a piano.”

She is in the middle of recitals at the Conservatory. On Saturday, Charlotte performed the Paganini Etude No. 6, along with the Haydn Sonata in C Major, set to repeat the program on Oct. 20. She will perform the Prokofiev Concerto No. 3 in the division recital on Nov. 3. These events in the SFCM Concert Hall, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., are open to the public without charge.

In just a decade of her young career, Charlotte received a dozen top prizes in competitions such as the MTAC Concerto Competition, U.S. Open Music Competition, Los Angeles Young Musicians International Competition, S.F. Asian Youth Talent Competition, International San Jose Piano Competition, Los Angeles International Liszt Competition, Vancouver International Music Competition, and the Henry & Carol Zeiter Piano Competition.

She plays for the elderly and at benefit concerts, such as a North Bay Wildfires Benefit Concert to raise money for victims of the recent devastating wildfires. She has also participated in master classes with Jeffrey Kahane, Edward Auer, Garrick Ohlsson, and James Giles. Most recently, Charlotte was a finalist at the Mondavi Center Young Artists Piano Competition.

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].