Pianist Anton Nel
World-renown concert pianist Anton Nel – winner of the first prize in the 1987 Naumburg International Piano Competition at Carnegie Hall – doesn’t consider himself a child prodigy. That despite the fact that he made his auspicious professional debut at the age of 12 with Ludwig van Beethoven’s “C Major Concerto” with his country’s premier ensemble, the Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra, after only two years of piano studies.
In a major coup for Central Texas audiences, Anton Nel will perform Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations live on stage to complement the drama of the award-winning Broadway play 33 Variations, making its Texas debut at ZACH’s new Topfer Theatre from January 23rd through February 17th. Starring television star Beth Broderick, the play by Moisés Kaufman (The Laramie Project, I Am My Own Wife) simultaneously examines the adventure behind Beethoven’s creation of his Diabelli Variations and the world of a modern-day musicologist trying to uncover the mysteries of the work while her own life unravels around her.
World-renowned concert pianist Anton Nel plays Beethoven's 33 Variations of Diabelli's work in ZACH Theatre's production
Like Beethoven, Nel displayed his musical talents at an early age and quickly became known as a virtuoso pianist. A Johannesburg native born into a musical family, Nel 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. In a 2005 Austin Chronicle article by Austin composer Graham Reynolds, Nel’s lineage connection to Beethoven was laid out even more succinctly:
“Anton Nel belongs to one of the most famous lines of pianists ever. Nel’s teacher was South African virtuoso Adolph Hallis, who was taught by the most famous of the Romantic piano teachers, Theodor Leschetizky, who in turn was taught by Carl Czerny, a pedagogue whose studies most piano students still play today. Czerny was taught by none other than Ludwig van Beethoven, who for his part was taught by Mozart’s composer friend, and rival, Joseph Haydn.”
Today, Nel continues a multifaceted career that has taken him to North and South America, Europe, Asia and South Africa. His nearly four decades of concert appearances include performances with the symphonies of Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Detroit and London, among many others. His recitals have played at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Museum and the Frick Collection in New York, at the Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena, Davies Hall in San Francisco, and the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Internationally he has performed recitals in major concert halls in Canada, England, France, Holland, Japan, Korea and South Africa.
An acclaimed Beethoven interpreter, Nel has an active repertoire of more than 100 works for piano and orchestra and has performed the entire Beethoven concerto cycle several times – most notably on two consecutive evenings with the Cape Philharmonic in 2005. In addition to world premiering works by living composers, he was also chosen to give the North American premiere of the newly discovered “Piano Concerto No. 3 in E Minor” by Felix Mendelssohn in 1992.
The New York Times says Anton Nel is "an uncommonly elegant pianist."
His recordings include four solo CDs, several chamber music recordings – including the complete Beethoven Piano and Cello Sonatas and Variations, and the Brahms Sonatas, with Bion Tsang – and works for piano and orchestra by Franck, Faure and Saint-Saens. Anton Nel became a citizen of the United States of America on September 11, 2003, and in January 2010, he became the first holder of the new Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Endowed Chair in Piano at the University of Texas at Austin – where after 20 years as a professor he continues to teach an international class of students and the head of the Division of Keyboard Studies.
Interestingly, Nel started sharing his knowledge as a music professor exactly 200 years after Beethoven first started sharing his, by publishing his first composition at the age of 12 – the same age as when Nel made his performance debut. That first published composition by Beethoven was a set of keyboard variations.
ZACH Theatre’s production of 33 Variations previews January 23rd through 30th. Champagne Opening and Press Night is Thursday, January 31 at 7:30 p.m., followed by a reception with the stars of show. The GLBT Wilde Party with pre-show mixer is Thursday, January 24th.
Performances continue through February 17th on Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. To order tickets call 512-476-0541 ext. 1 or visit www.zachtheatre.org.
Student Rush Tickets are available for $18 one hour before showtime (with valid ID). ZACH’s full bar – featuring signature cocktails and hors d’oeurve boxes – opens one hour prior to showtime and remains open for one hour post-show.