Pianist Eric Zuber will perform Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto on Sunday with the Glens Falls Symphony Orchestra. But after competing and winning prizes at many competitions, Zuber, who is 28, is wondering if the international solo career is for him.
“Not all are cut out for it,” Zuber said from Baltimore where he’s getting his doctorate at the Peabody Conservatory. “It’s a lonely existence to be the great soloist. Maybe I’m too social for that.”
It’s an interesting dilemma for a guy who made his orchestral debut at 12 years old with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, performing the third movement from Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto.
“Yes, I was a prodigious little one,” he said. “I started at 4 and by 6 I’d finished with all the Suzuki methods and was in the prep division at Peabody.”
That he was so talented was a great surprise to his parents, who were not musical, although his father did teach himself how to play guitar, Zuber said.
“My parents viewed it as a hobby,” he said.
Glens Falls Symphony Orchestra
WHEN: 4 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Glens Falls High School, 10 Quade Street, Glens Falls
HOW MUCH: $28, $25, $10
MORE INFO: 793-1348, www.gfso.org
But he was lucky from the beginning in that he had great teachers. Since the family lived only an hour from the conservatory, his parents signed him up. No one ever had to make him practice.
“I was enjoying it [playing piano] just so much, even to improving,” Zuber said. “But I did my fair share of playing baseball.”
Two years after his debut with Baltimore, he played the Tchaikovsky with a Spanish orchestra and at 16 entered Peabody as an undergraduate. After he received his bachelor’s degree, he spent two years at Curtis Institute, then a year at the Juilliard School and then returned to Peabody to work on his doctorate.
Zuber also began to enter competitions to build his resume and get his name out. He won his first competition at 21 at the Hilton Head International Competition and made a successful Carnegie Hall recital debut. The next year he won prizes at international competitions in Sydney and Seoul, but didn’t get to see much of either country beyond the concert halls.
“It’s unfortunate in that you work until the last day of the competition and can’t sightsee,” he said.
The following year he won prizes at competitions in Dublin and Minnesota and at the Gina Bachauer International Competition in Salt Lake City.
“The Gina Bachauer was the eye-opener,” Zuber said. “I’d never heard that level of playing before. I decided I’d better get down to business.”
He did. The next year he won the first prize at the Bachauer. Then, in 2011, he competed in the Arthur Rubinstein International and the Cleveland International competitions. Because the Rubinstein is held in Israel over two weeks, some of the pianists, including the eventual winner Daniil Trifonov, who played so brilliantly this summer at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, hung out together.
As the fourth-place winner, Zuber got to play with the Israel Philharmonic, the Israel Camerata and do several recitals around the country, which gave him time to sightsee.
“The playing was very special,” Zuber said. “And the sightseeing was fantastic.”
As the third place winner at the Cleveland, he received prize money and several concerts, including the one with the Glens Falls Symphony. For several years, the orchestra has had a special relationship with the competition in that the winner gets to play with Glens Falls two years after the pianist won. This time, however, music director Charles Peltz attended the 2011 event and was so impressed with Zuber’s “extraordinary collaborative approach” with the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra in Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto that he hired him on the spot, Peltz said.
Since then, Zuber has continued to compete, winning the $10,000 Enbridge Prize at Canada’s 2012 Honens International Piano Competition and this year’s Bosendorfer International Competition in Phoenix, where he won the top prize — one of 48 who competed out of 198 pianists who applied.
The Bosendorfer win comes only after competing at two other competitions, one of which was in Leeds, England, where Zuber finally had time to sightsee.
“A bunch of us who had gotten kicked out of the second round rented a car and drove around,” he said laughing. “So I saw a bit.”
Despite his success, the one thing that has eluded Zuber is to find major management.
“It’s a mystery to me why some get it and others don’t,” he said. “It seems to be more about a business decision than how well a pianist plays.”
He’s still considering whether he’ll continue to compete. Last year, he had to take the entire year off to do the three competitions, which meant his schooling was put on hold.
“I hate to sit on my current level of ability,” Zuber said. “I think I should still put myself out there. But it takes your life to prepare and everything else falls by the wayside. All the competitions are three weeks in length and for the really big ones there is so much involved. I’m not sure getting another prize would accomplish anything. I’d need to win at the Chopin, the Tchaikovsky or the Cliburn to help my career. Major management is really the biggest prize.”
Without that level of management, getting to play with the major orchestras is enormously difficult, he said, unless you’re someone like Lang Lang or Emanuel Ax. Still, there are compensations as he’s now a teaching associate and he’s discovered how much he enjoys it.
“I’d like to do both. I have a wonderful life,” Zuber said.