Chatting with Anton Nel
By Rob Faubion

    I first met Anton Nel about eight years ago, and immediately was drawn to his wit, charm, and intellect.  It wasn’t until a couple of days later that I realized that my new conversation
acquaintance was the celebrated concert pianist.
     Originally from South Africa, Nel made his professional debut at the age of twelve, where he played Beethoven’s “C Major Concerto” after only two years of study.  A native of Johannesburg, he captured first prizes in all the major South African competitions while still in his teens, toured his native country extensively and became a well-known radio and television personality.
     A student of Adolph Hallis, he made his European debut in France in 1982, and in the same year graduated with highest distinction from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. He came to the Unites States in 1983, and became a U.S. citizen on September 11, 2003.
Anton Nel
(photo courtesy The Long Center)
     Eager to pursue dual careers in teaching and performing he was appointed to the faculty of the University of Texas at Austin at the age of 23.  Since that time, he has toured Japan, played for the Prince of Wales, recorded several best-selling CDs, and performed the North American premiere of the newly discovered “Third Concerto” by Felix Mendelssohn.
    Anton Nel enjoys a remarkable and multifaceted career that has taken him throughout North and South America, Europe, Asia, and South Africa.  An Austin resident and professor at the University of Texas, he regularly performs as the guest artist of great companies including the Cleveland Orchestra and the symphonies of London, San Francisco, Boston,
and Detroit.
     He has an active repertoire of more than 100 works for piano and orchestra, and he was took first prize in the 1987 Naumburg International Piano Competition.  His coast-to-coast recital appearances have included numerous performances at Lincoln Center in New York, the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., as well as the Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena.
     All the while, teaching the next generation of classical musicians.  On March 29th, he will make his Long Center for the Performing Arts debut, performing a concert of Haydn, Brahms, Beethoven and more on the Long Center’s nine-foot Steinway Hamburg.
     The multi-faceted musician took a few minutes out of his ridiculously busy schedule to chat about his career, his passion for teaching, and why he continues to call Austin his home.  Your professional debut - when you were only twelve years old - came after only two years of study - so, do you consider yourself a piano prodigy?

A.N.:  I think one needs to use words like “prodigy” and “genius” with great care!  When I look back now, it seems absurd that I was able to play a Beethoven Concerto - first movement of the “C Major” - with orchestra after studying the piano for only two years. Of course, at that age, one does what one’s teacher tells us, and that’s exactly what I did.
     I do remember that I loved playing the piano from the early stages - and still do.   And the thrill of playing something like that in public was unforgettable.  
    That concert was a defining moment for me, though.  I think it was there and then that I decided to make music my life.  You became a U.S. citizen on Sept. 11th, two years after the World Trade Center attacks - was the coincidence of that date significant for you?

A.N.:  The date actually was purely coincidental.  I had completed my citizenship requirements months earlier.  But between my concert schedule and the citizenship ceremonies,  it was hard to find a date that lined up!
     The ceremony itself was very special, of course, even though I had already lived in the United States for more than 20 years.  There was a special tribute to 9/11 as part of it that was very moving.
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