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Piano man opening St. Paul's concert series
Pianist James D'Leon clearly remembers the first time he strolled into class at the acclaimed San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
His classmates probably haven't forgotten that day either, because D'Leon was only 8 years old at the time.
“I remember them placing me in music theory classes with the college students,” D'Leon says. “Thinking back, the students must have wondered ‘Who is this kid?' It didn't bother me, though.”
The young pianist belonged at the conservatory because an international music career was clearly his destiny. Plus, it wouldn't be the last time he would impress those around him by blazing new horizons.
When D'Leon strides into St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Yuma, classical music lovers will likely be thrilled at the opportunity to enjoy the music of such an esteemed performer. D'Leon's concert marks the start of the local church's annual concert series, a musical tradition that has brought classical concerts to Yuma for almost three decades.
His concert at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Yuma is slated for 5 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 4. A free will offering will be accepted.
D'Leon, who lives in Prescott, describes his concerts as “conversations from the keyboard.”
“...I share tidbits of information that can help the listeners with their concert experience,” he told the Yuma Sun during a recent phone interview. “I love programming deep works that have interesting stories to them. I have successfully performed some very complex programs to some pretty rural audiences using this method. They love it!”
D'Leon studied piano at Julliard in New York City and graduated summa cum laude from Temple University's Esther Boyer College of Music. He later earned a fellowship to the Eastman School of Music, where he earned a doctor of musical arts degree in piano performance and literature.
His honors include having competed at such prestigious international piano competitions as The Leeds International Piano Competition in England and the Van Cliburn Competition. He received top honors in the New York Artist International Competition, which led to his New York debut recital at Carnegie Hall.
D'Leon discovered his music gifts at a very young age, growing up in his native South Korea. He began playing piano at age 4 and performed his first solo recital just a year later.
“Back then, honestly, I was like any child who would have much preferred playing outside than playing the piano. I remember many a day when the weather was beautiful, but my mother pushed me to practice the piano instead,” he said. “I give her credit, though. She pushed me like this until around 10 years old, when I like to say that it finally ‘kicked in.'”
After that, D'Leon enjoyed practicing and performing. But he enjoyed winning competitions even more.
“Today, I couldn't imagine living without (the piano). It has truly become part of me emotionally and spiritually. I try to share that audiences, especially through the music that I select.”
After earning the full scholarship to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music as a youngster, D'Leon won the young soloist competition of both the San Francisco Symphony and the Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra. He later studied music with Miriam Gottlieb in Pennsylvania. By the age of 14, he had won every local competition in that state, culminating in his debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Academic of Music. He performed the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2.
“...the thing about youth is that pressure seems to just bounce off you,” he said. “I remember being really relaxed about things, even when I entered competitions. Naturally as I got older, the mental aspect of pressured performing became a little daunting at times. But today, I have fully settled based on my experience. I truly enjoy performing.”
In 2009 D'Leon was selected as an official Steinway Concert Artist listed on both the New York and Hamburg, Germany, rosters. Since then, his performances have taken him throughout England, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Canada and 40 U.S. states.
“I moved to Prescott approximately three years ago. I have a wife and a 5-year-old son, and we moved to be closed to my parents who live in Prescott Valley,” D'Leon said. “Before that time, my son didn't really know his grandparents, so we moved there to catch up. Besides, my career is flexible, so I can really move anywhere.”
He stressed that a lively career on the road allows him to interact with such a larger proverbial audience.
“I love travel and meeting new audiences. I will keep doing the same thing and hopefully keep moving upward in the ranks of full-time concert pianists,” he said. “Besides, you can't beat having a ‘job' where it feeds your soul at the same time.”
Nov. 4: James D'Leon, pianist
Dec. 2: AWC Music Faculty in Concert
Jan. 12: Tom Sheeley and Chose Coleman, guitar and piano
Feb. 24: Eckart Sellheim and Judy May, piano and voice
March 24: Juliana Osinchuk, pianist
April 14: Andrew and Pamela Stubbs, piano and strings
May 5: Young Musicians of Yuma Benefit Concert
Note: All concerts begin at 5 p.m. unless otherwise announced.
The venue is St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 1550 S. 14th Ave. in Yuma
Free will offerings are accepted at each concert.
For more information, call Sally Houston at 782-0166 or 782-5155.