MILTON, Ga. — There's something people notice about William Zhang - something besides his prowess at the piano, his instinct for Mozart, and his 6 years of age.
They notice the look on his face when he sits at the keys.
He smiles all the time - even on this day - four days before the biggest concert of his young life.
“Sunday,” he says, “I’m going to Carnegie Hall.”
William is among the youngest participants – and the youngest Georgian – in the America’s Protégé Winners Recital, Sunday March 31 at the renowned concert hall.
It’s the high point of a journey that began when William was 1 year and 4 months old.
“We had a business meeting at Georgia Tech,” recalls his father Todd. “There was a piano sitting there. He sits there and hits it, like he really knows how to play.”
Todd Zhang captured the moment on video – “for fun,” he says. But later, when he talked about it with wife Julie Wang, “we were like, ‘We need to buy a piano for him.’”
At age 4, William began taking lessons and performed Christmas songs at church. Soon, his playlist expanded. He plays Schubert, Bach, Beethoven, among others.
“When I play the Schubert, I can see flowers,” he says of how he visualizes the melody. “When I play the Tchaikovsky, I can see a bird flying around – a little bird, not an eagle.”
Around his fifth birthday, he met with Professor Raffi Besalyan at Georgia State, a longtime pianist who’s played Carnegie Hall – and four continents. He rarely trains 4-year-olds.
“I said, ‘Honestly at this point in his career, I’m not taking little students.’ But then I met him, and I immediately got drawn into his world," Besalyan described. "He has this very brilliant sparkling energy that comes across when he plays.”
Sunday, William will perform on one of the world’s most famous stages. He’ll wear a suit. He’ll play Mozart. He’ll likely do it all with a smile.
Says his mother Julie, “Teaching William about love, about expressing love … that’s the most important thing he’s learned from his piano journey.”
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