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Music

Contest winner Dupree: 'Just remain human'

In early April, 22-year-old pianist Frank Dupree won the German Music Competition in Bonn - a key prize for young musical talents in the country. DW spoke to the performer about his already impressive career.

DW: Frank Dupree, you are just 22 years old and can look back on impressive success in concert and at international competitions. When did it become clear to you that you wanted to be a musician?

Frank Dupree: Very early on. I was fortunate to find my way to Sontraud Speidel, who is still my piano professor today. She had a very profession approach from the start. By age ten or eleven, I knew I wanted to become a pianist.

How important has this long-running connection to Sontraud Speidel been for you?

On one hand, she's my piano teacher of course. But on the other, she's much, much more. I still have lessons with her every week. And there it's not just about teaching piano proficiency - it's more about instructing the entire person: musically, emotionally, everything. She really helped to raise me.

Frank Dupree at the piano

Dupree insists he's no 'Wunderkind'

You won the German Music Competition here in Bonn a few days ago. Is it a particular honor for you?

When I arrived in Bonn, I had the final piece for the contest in my ear: Beethoven's Piano Concerto Number 3. Yes, the German Music Competition is the most important competition I've participated in because it offers so many opportunities. Now the German Music Council is organizing a few concerts for me and establishing contact with concert organizers. There will probably also be a CD soon - my first. That will be organized by the German Music Council too.

Your first international concert took place in 2005 in France with the Orchestre Conservatoire Nancy - when you were just 13 years old. Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto Number 1 was on the program. Does that work have a special significance for you today?

It was my first major Romantic piano concerto. I started with Mozart and Haydn, later a shorter Liszt concerto got added to the mix. Then my professor said, 'Okay, next we're going to do the Tchaikovsky piano concerto!' I had always wanted to play it, and I remember buying the score but not being allowed to practice it yet. Then the moment came! For me, it's - similar to Beethoven's third concerto - a milestone work. It's simply insane!

At the Karlsruhe Music Academy your teachers picked up on your exceptional conducting talent too, and you conducted your first concert at age 13.

Yes, funnily enough, it was my piano teacher who discovered that. At some point she said, 'Why don't you try conducting!' And I did. I led a small youth ensemble. After that, a chamber orchestra and even a large symphony orchestra. Soon I was the top student in Karlsruhe in conducting - at age 14.

But you took it a step further by conducting from the piano and won the 2012 International Hans von Bülow Competition in that discipline. What's the special appeal of leading an orchestra as a soloist at the piano?

Simultaneously conducting and playing means making chamber music with around 50, 60 or 70 people. It's an enormous challenge. But for me it's an incredible joy to make music this way.

At 22, you've lived the life of a child prodigy. Was there any time for a "normal" childhood - for playing, hobbies and friends? Did you ever long for a more normal life?

I've never longed for a "normal" childhood because I never saw myself as a prodigy, nor did my parents raise me that way. I played soccer on the street with other kids, did plenty of messing around - the stuff you do as a boy. But I never forgot about music.

I played piano, did chamber music, played the drums - but just remained human. I think that's very, very important. As a musician, you can't forget to remain human. Music is composed by people, and it usually expresses feelings. And I think you can only express feelings once you've experienced them yourself. That includes love. It also includes disappointment sometimes - everything that is part of life.

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