Raising little Mozart
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Raising little Mozart

The father of 8-year-old composer Alma Deutscher discusses the challenges of nurturing a wunderkind

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Alma Deutscher at an open rehearsal during the Voice of Music in the Upper Galilee (photo credit: Courtesy official Facebook page)
Alma Deutscher at an open rehearsal during the Voice of Music in the Upper Galilee (photo credit: Courtesy official Facebook page)

When it comes right down to it, 8-year-old Alma Deutscher is just a kid, albeit a very talented, gifted one.

The prodigy who taught herself the piano at 2, and the violin at 3, was composing music several years later, including a short opera, “The Sweeper of Dreams,” based on the Neil Gaiman story of the same name, that narrowly missed the finals for the English National Opera competition.

What’s ironic about an elementary school-age child writing arias is that composing offers Alma the option of “sitting at home with a cup of milk, without jetting around the world,” said her father, Guy Deutscher.

“If you’re an outstanding violinist, that’s what you do — go around the world and spend your life in hotels,” said Deutscher. “You’re going from one country to another. It’s a very stressful life, really. We hope that Alma can avoid a lot of that because she has another gift that allows for a less stressful life, where you don’t have to be at a concert every evening.”

Deutscher was speaking after Alma’s recent debut at The Voice of Music in the Upper Galilee Festival. Her opera, a compact, 30-minute-long piece, was performed on the last evening of the festival — the first time it has been produced in its entirety — with five members of the Israel Philharmonic and four singers, said Deutscher. Alma, he said, was “elated.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6RKioJXp7c&feature=share&list=PL64108521BFB99335

For Alma, there’s a special thrill in performing — which she did four times at last week’s Galilee festival — and “she thrives on it,” said her father. “It almost seems cruel to limit that, but it’s important for her long-time mental balance. It’s a matter of dosage, really. We try to keep it as a special occasion.”

“We judge things on an individual basis,” he added. “We don’t want to overload her.”

Clearly, it isn’t easy figuring out what makes the most sense when raising a wonderfully gifted child who wants to share her many talents. For now, Alma is home-schooled, said Deutscher, primarily because she spends an enormous amount of time working on her music. Given her “intense imagination,” her parents thought it would be difficult for her at school, he said.

It’s while she’s relaxing that her music comes to her, Alma has told interviewers. She likes thinking about fairies, princesses and beautiful dresses, and, in fact, is now working on a longer opera based on the story of Cinderella.

Deutscher is Israeli, and a linguist by training. He lives with his wife, Janie, a pianist, and Alma in Surrey, England. They discovered Alma’s talents at a very young age, and have been trying, ever since, to balance the needs and skills of their little girl, who still has to rest her feet on two books when playing the piano.

“We’re trying to keep her life outside of music as normal as possible,” said Deutscher. “She spends time climbing trees and drawing and pretending to be various people in pretty dresses and running around in the woods. The most striking thing about her is her extremely vivid imagination. So for her, anything, even climbing trees, is clad in some sort of imaginary world.”

It’s while she’s relaxing that her music comes to her, Alma has told interviewers. She likes thinking about fairies, princesses and beautiful dresses, and, in fact, is now working on a longer opera based on the story of Cinderella.

Deutscher commented that the festival was a first for Alma, and was a “beautiful, informal, relaxed atmosphere, a great introduction to a grown-up situation,” given the open rehearsals and mix of musicians with the audience over the course of nearly a week.

The festival celebrated its 29th year this summer as the country’s first chamber music festival. Held on the grounds of Kibbutz Kfar Blum in the Upper Galilee, the audience can attend open rehearsals and listen to concerts on the lawn, all with the aim of offering an insight into the world of music interpretation and artistic approach.

Of his daughter’s developing talents, Deutscher said, “It’s not something you can plan, or produce according to plan. It’s just a question of responding to her, and obviously trying to encourage her and give her the opportunities of what she wants to do.”

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