Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Dunedin sixth-grader will play piano at New York City's Carnegie Hall

DUNEDIN — When she wakes in the morning, her fingers move along the pillow.

Eleven-year-old Nadia Azzi is playing piano in her mind.

As a pre-schooler, her teachers worried she didn't know how to speak. Quiet and shy, she could get through a school day in virtual silence.

Then came the piano.

Azzi's mother, Kaori Azzi, was a casual pianist in her youth. When pregnant with Nadia, she played a little Mozart in hopes of helping her new baby's development.

She did not know this would happen.

Nadia took her first piano lesson before she turned 5.

On Sunday, she plays at Carnegie Hall. A week later, she joins some of Tampa Bay's finest classical musicians on a local stage.

One teacher calls her a prodigy. She says she simply loves music.

"I'm obsessed," Nadia confided Thursday in between orchestra class at Dunedin Highland Middle School and her violin lesson with Florida Orchestra member Karl Bawel.

Oh, yes, she plays violin now, too.

• • •

At the end of seventh period, Nadia's orchestra class wants to hear her play.

The sixth-grader is 92 pounds and about 5 feet tall, a small person in this large, high-ceilinged room.

As she approaches the seat on the upright piano, she kneads her thin fingers to warm and stretch them.

Her eyes look down through her tiny glasses, her pony tail points up. Her legs are striped with black and white piano key knee-high socks. She sits on her poofy black skirt. Narrow shoulders hunch. And it begins.

Khachaturian's sonatina for piano.

Fingers dance like jumping spiders, spreading and moving. Her black size 6 ballet flat pumps the piano pedal, pulling her weight from the seat then down again.

In her mind, she imagines war and blood, what it must have been like in the composer's war-torn country of Armenia in the 1940s. Sound swallows the room, a succession of quick notes that signal power and fullness so much larger than she.

She's practiced this. And practiced this.

She spends at least 15 hours a week practicing on one of the three pianos in her family's Palm Harbor home. Then, she devotes another 30 to 45 minutes a day to the violin.

Add to that once-weekly lessons both with Bawel and piano teacher Kinuyo Engelbrecht and two hours on Sunday with the Pinellas Youth Symphony.

"Every night we have to fight that she has to go to bed," her mother says. "Otherwise, she will be playing until 2 or 3 in the morning."

• • •

"Nice. Good," the teacher says as his student finishes playing a Bach air for violin. "What's your analysis?"

"My bow needs to be flatter," she says standing before him.

"Why?" he asks.

Bawel, a 30-year member of the Florida Orchestra, first met Nadia in September 2008.

"I didn't have any expectations," he remembered.

She was new to the instrument, said liked the way it sounded. Some of her friends played it.

"It became very apparent at the very first lesson that she had some major talents," he said. "I've had some good students in the past, some very good students who have gone on to major orchestras. … But this one's special. Very special."

Within a year, Nadia was concert master for the All-County Middle School Orchestra. She walked into her middle school and played her way into first chair for the advanced orchestra.

"She gets a fullness out of it that she shouldn't at her age," Dunedin Middle teacher Katherine Laursen said.

Nadia's developing so quickly on the violin that Bawel has decided he must relinquish her to another teacher at the end of the summer.

Bawel is a trained violinist, but viola is his passion. To continue to challenge Nadia on the violin would mean reacquainting himself with violin pieces that are buried in his memory.

"She's going so fast and at this stage of the game, I don't want to pull out those major concertos and relearn them," he said with a chuckle.

Nadia is a little heart-broken about the transition.

Bawel, she said, challenges her. He doesn't simply let her slide on talent.

Bawel sees it another way: He's warding off ego by keeping her feet on the ground.

• • •

Nadia will play the Khachaturian sonatina at one of the world's most famous music halls on Sunday during the International Young Musicians Festival.

Her mother, worried Nadia would be rejected, had sent the audition tape in secretly. Nadia won a gold medal in her age group.

At the end of their lesson Thursday, Bawel asked Nadia to put away her violin and play what she'd be playing at Carnegie Hall.

She sat at his upright piano and swept the keys.

When she was finished he asked: "What's your analysis?"

"It needs to be louder at the end," she said.

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or rcatalanello@sptimes.com.

Nadia Azzi plays for her classmates at Dunedin Middle, where she is in the Center of Gifted Studies magnet program.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Nadia Azzi plays for her classmates at Dunedin Middle, where she is in the Center of Gifted Studies magnet program.

.If you go

Pupil, teacher play

What: Karl Bawel, viola soloist and member of the Florida Orchestra for almost 30 years, will be performing solo and in duet with celloist Isabelle Sanderlin. Also, 11-year-old Nadia Azzi performing Chopin and Khachaturian on piano; and organist Keven Johnson performing Mendelssohn. It is the first time Bawel has invited one of his students — Azzi — to perform in concert with him.

When: Sunday, April 25,

3 p.m.

Where: St. Alfred's Episcopal Church, 1601 Curlew Road in Palm Harbor

Cost: Free and open to the public.

Before Carnegie

Watch 11-year-old Nadia Azzi

perform at

video.tampabay.com.

Dunedin sixth-grader will play piano at New York City's Carnegie Hall 04/16/10 [Last modified: Monday, April 19, 2010 10:08am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Clearwater officer fired after investigation reveals use of unnecessary force on teen

    Public Safety

    A Clearwater police officer was fired after an internal investigation found he used unnecessary force on a teenager in custody, the agency said Wednesday.

  2. Meadowlawn Middle School teacher arrested on molestation charges

    Crime

    ST. PETERSBURG — A Meadowlawn Middle School teacher was arrested Wednesday morning on charges that he molested three underage girls, police said.

    Joseph Zavalnak, 41, a Meadowlawn Middle School teacher, was arrested May 24, 2017on charges that he molested three underage girls, police said. He faces  five counts of lewd and lascivious molestation. The victims were between the ages of 12 and 18, police said. [Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
  3. Letter from 'many' St. Petersburg High faculty, staff to Pinellas School Board pushes for assistant principal to be next principal

    Blogs

    A St. Petersburg High teacher sent a letter on the behalf of "many" school faculty and staff to the Pinellas County School Board and school district superintendent Mike Grego in support of appointing their assistant principal, Darlene Lebo, as principal.

    Darlene Lebo, an assistant principal at St. Petersburg High, is supported by "many" school faculty and staff to be the school's next principal, according to a letter sent to the Pinellas County School Board.
  4. 2017 Florida Theme Park Guide: A look at this summer's top attractions

    Attractions

    Florida's theme parks are getting ready for their busiest season with new rides, shows and perks, and we have rounded up a guide to the best new things to see.

    The newest fireworks presentation at Magic Kingdom uses lasers, lights, projections and pyrotechnics showing characters and scenes from more than 25 Disney films. [Walt Disney World]
  5. Meet 'rave pops,' the EDM-loving, hard-dancing 72-year-old who went viral via the Sunset Music Festival (w/video)

    Music & Concerts

    Alan Grofé is a 72-year-old, semi-retired entrepreneur and former tech executive with frost-white hair, two grown children and five grandchildren.

    Alan Grofe dances at the Electric Daisy Carnival festival in Orlando in 2016. [aLIVE Coverage for Insomniac]