10-year-old Malibu prodigy to perform Bach in free concert

Benjamin Krasner said there will be “lots of color and strong characteristics” in the performance because “it’s Bach.”

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

In about two weeks, 10-year-old Malibu Benjamin Krasner will finish his homework, put in some training laps for the swim team, then play a piano concert program of Haydn, Chopin and Bach at the Gianelli Square Concert Hall in Northridge.

Benjamin, a sixth grader at Malibu Middle School, has already performed internationally. He was asked to play at Vladimir Spivakov’s “Moscow Meets Friends” International Festival in 2007 and was the youngest laureate in the International Young Musicians Competition “Passion of Music 2008” at the Lincoln Center, when he wasn’t even big enough to board all the rides at Disneyland.

Benjamin started playing piano when he was five.

“Of course we had a piano at our house,” said his mother Ann Krasner in her Russian-accented English. “All our children must learn to play the piano, it’s not a choice.”

(The prodigy gene pool run’s in the Krasner family-Benjamin’s elder sister, Danielle, is now attending Yale for a doctorate in biochemistry after graduating from California State University Los Angeles at age 16.)

Very quickly, Benjamin leaped beyond struggles with Beethoven’s “Fur Elise.” He kept asking for new and more difficult compositions to play and by age six was winning local piano competitions. During the next four years, he won, among others, the Southern California Junior Bach Festival, the Long Beach Mozart Festival and the Southwestern Youth Music Festival.

“Benjamin is OK with performing,” Ann said. “Even when he is competing against 20-year-olds, he’s fine.”

Indeed, Benjamin seems to move easily from the pressures of concert performance to karate class (black belt), to skateboarding with school friends to collaborating with his mother in performance art projects. In a YouTube video, you can hear Benjamin playing a Bach concerto as orchestration to a series of his mother’s colorful, Post-Impressionism-in-the 21st-century paintings.

Benjamin’s mother and father, Paul Krasner, had emigrated from Moscow to the U.S. as political refugees in 1987. Ann grew up in a family deeply committed to the arts and sciences, and she studied at the Moscow Central Music School for seven years. After arriving in California and giving birth to Danielle, Ann studied business management and earned a master’s degree in business administration from the University of La Verne. Paul is a business analyst at Amgen, a prominent biotech company.

When Benjamin’s teachers at Juan Cabrillo Elementary School started telling his parents that he showed more than mere talent, they first had him study with a piano teacher at Pepperdine University then with Lubov Sorochkina, an 80-year-old master from the Moscow Conservatory. Sorochkina will perform the orchestral portions of Benjamin’s concert later this month.

When asked what his peers think of his performing gift, Benjamin was diplomatic.

“I think my friends like the music, but they don’t really listen to it,” he said. “Regular people with regular lives just don’t pay attention to classical music.”

Benjamin was very specific about his schedule. He gets up at six a.m. and practices piano, then attends classes at Malibu Middle School until noon (“We have been so lucky to have the full support of [Principal Mark] Kelly and all the teachers for their support of Benjamin’s growth as a musician,” his mother said). He then has piano lessons, homework, a “short nap,” swim team practice, dinner, then more piano practice. He said he is looking forward to his Nov. 21 concert.

“Bach is probably my favorite composer,” Benjamin said. “He has all these different voices and colors. The right hand will be one voice and the left hand another. It’s like people talking together.”

Although his first musical composition, titled “Wow!” won the 2009 National PTA Reflections competition, Benjamin said he is more interested in performing than composing right now-except when it comes to scoring his mother’s paintings.

“When I improvise for Mom’s paintings, I’ll just look at them to see what characteristics come out,” he explained. “Sometimes, we’ll play a game and she’ll say ‘rain’ or ‘happy’ and I’ll try and play that.”

Benjamin said he wants to attend Yale or Juilliard because “they’re the best music schools.” But for now, he is focusing on the challenge of an hour and a half solo piano recital in three weeks.

“There will be lots of color and strong characteristics,” Benjamin said. “It’s Bach.”

Benjamin Krasner will perform Nov. 21 at the Gianelli Square Concert Hall, 19451 Londelius St., Northridge at 4 p.m. Entrance is free. Reservations can be made by calling Ann Krasner at 310.589.5344.

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