‘Bu Beach Boy hits high notes as classical pianist

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The Von Oeyen family on Christmas Day in 2001. Pictured from left to right are Geoffrey, Nancy, David and Andrew. Photo by Frank McKown

Malibu’s Andrew von Oeyen to perform in only local concert.

By David Wallace/Special to The Malibu Times

Malibu is all about celebrities, money and the coastline that brought the celebrities and money here in the first place. Or so goes the common wisdom.

In the case of 24-year-old Andrew von Oeyen, the common wisdom couldn’t be more wrongheaded. Yes, he’s blond and, yes, he’s a surfer just like the cliché “‘Bu Beach Boy.” And, as did many local kids, he grew up playing soccer and Little League baseball at Bluffs Park. Today, however, Von Oeyen is also making major international waves as a classical pianist.

A year-and-a-half ago, an article in the Chicago Tribune stated, “Brilliant technique can be taken for granted among today’s concert pianists, but Von Oeyen’s playing goes a step further. He leaves you convinced that he can do absolutely anything he likes with a keyboard.”

And on Friday this brilliance can be heard when Von Oeyen plays a concert including works by Chopin, Haydn and Debussy at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Pacific Palisades. It is Von Oeyen’s only local concert this season, otherwise crammed with appearances in Great Britain, Brazil, France and the U.S. In May, he’ll be making his third appearance at the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina, during which he will also make his conducting debut. June sees him in London debuting in the prestigious Wigmore Hall recital series. Von Oeyen has also appeared with the Saint Louis, Seattle, Detroit, Santa Barbara and Singapore symphonies, the Slovak State Philharmonic and the Chamber Orchestra of the South Bay, as well as in recital at the Ravinia and Gilmore Keyboard festivals. He is a Gilmore Young Artist Award winner and, in 2001, took first prize in the Lení Fé Bland Foundation National Piano Competition.

Von Oeyen’s skyrocketing career didn’t happen overnight.

He has been playing the piano since he was five, soon after his

family moved from Detroit to Thousand Oaks. In 1988 they moved to Malibu after building their breathtaking, contemporary home high atop Encinal Canyon (it was designed by Von Oeyen’s father, David, an associate principal with Fields Devereaux Architects). Following his early education in Malibu, Von Oeyen attended high school at Santa Monica’s arts-oriented Crossroads School. In 2002, he received a bachelor’s degree from New York’s prestigious Juilliard School, followed last May by a master’s music degree, also from Juilliard.

“I grew up in a musical family,” Von Oeyen says, as an explanation for his career. “Music was always in the house. There was always a piano sitting in the living room so I always had easy access to one.”

His mother, Nancy, was a member of the Roger Wagner Chorale and, for 22 years, has been a member of the Los Angeles Master Chorale. She teaches voice, both privately and with the Pinecrest Schools, and has been an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University. Von Oeyen’s older brother, Geoff, chose to follow in his father’s architectural footsteps. In 2000, Geoff graduated from Stanford with a bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies, and followed that with a master’s degree in philosophy and the History of Architecture from Cambridge’s Corpus Christi College, which he attended on a Fullbright scholarship. He is now working on his “professional” master’s degree at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard where his work has been showcased in the school’s studio and online for the past four semesters.

Today, Andrew Von Oeyen lives in New York’s upper West side in a studio apartment, which is dominated by a 6-foot Kawai grand piano, loaned by the manufacturer. “I love New York,” he says, “but I also love the fact that I don’t have to be here 24/365.”

It is appropriate that Friday’s concert is at St. Matthew’s, for it was Tom Neenan, music director of the church, who gave Von Oeyen his first professional engagement when he was 13. (He played Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto.)

“I have always been astounded at Andrew’s musical maturity,” Neenan says. “Even as a young teenager, he played with greater depth and subtlety than a lot of seasoned pros with professional careers.”

Within four years, guided by teachers Sara Banta and later, U.S.C.’s eminent Daniel Pollock, von Oeyen debuted with the L.A. Philharmonic conducted by its music director, Esa-Pekka Salonen, playing Prokofiev’s fiendishly challenging Third Piano Concerto.

For several years, Von Oeyen confided in friends that he dreamed of a career as a music teacher, and maybe someday heíll live that dream. In any event, whatever the future holds, Von Oeyen says, “I’ll always be a musician.”

St. Matthew’s is located at 1031 Bienveneda Ave. Tickets are $20. For information and directions call 310.573.7787, ext. 2.