Its been two years since Centralias Charlie Albright last played on The Washington Center for the Performing Arts stage. Since then, the 24-year-old concert pianist has played with the San Francisco, Seattle and Boston Pops orchestras, among others; collaborated with cellist Yo Yo Ma; won a handful of prizes; completed a masters degree in music at the New England Conservatory and a bachelors degree in economics at Harvard University; and reached 1,300 likes on his Facebook page.
Now, near the end of a busy season that includes concert performances around the country, studying for an artist diploma at the Juilliard School of Music and working on his own compositions, Albright is back in town to play a recital, give a master class and perform a concerto with the Olympia Symphony, all at The Washington Center next week.
Albrights endless procession of awards, achievements and accolades (including being labeled among the most gifted musicians of his generation by the Washington Post) probably wouldnt surprise anyone from around here whos followed the pianists stellar career. From picking out Disney tunes by ear at age 3, to making his debut with the University of Puget Sound symphony at 10, to gaining his associate of science degree from Centralia College while still in high school, Albright is the poster child for whiz kids.
But he also is your average 20-something: posting endless Facebook updates and YouTube clips, admiring cars, hanging out with his girlfriend. On the phone between concerts in North Dakota and California this week, he talked to The Olympian about Schubert, improvisation and why he doesnt practice that much.
Q: Is it good to be coming back home for concerts?
A: Yes, itll be nice to be here again. Ill be staying at home, so itll be a nice little getaway with time to hang out with my parents and my sister in Centralia.
Q: Tell us what youll be playing in the recital. You just received rave reviews for your all-Schubert Boston recital any of that?
A: I was going to do the whole Boston program, but while Schubert is great, its really long. Its very hard when it gets longer than a certain period, both to play and to listen to. It takes a certain audience, you know, Schubert aficionados. So Im playing just the Impromptus Op. 90, which I played in Boston. Then the Chopin Étude Op. 25, which Im playing in concerts this season, and Mozarts Rondo Alla Turca, the Turkish march. And some improvisation. Itll be a lot of fun.
Q: How do you improvise on a set theme or completely from scratch?
A: Completely from scratch. I dont like just playing something one way, then playing it another; I like to think of a whole, complete piece of music as opposed to just a bunch of ideas. I sit down for five minutes and come up with a melody or theme, then develop off of that. I play for about five to 12 minutes, usually.
Q: Is it easier than memorizing a formal recital piece?
A: In a way because I have more freedom. Its something Ive always done. I didnt take piano lessons until I was 7, and before that, when I was 3, I would just pick out tunes by ear you know, Great Balls of Fire and Disney tunes, that kind of thing. And Id improvise on them, change them. So its always been a part of what I did. I never got away from it completely, even when I learned more formally. Lately, Ive been doing it more and more, and people seem to like it.
Q: How about the Mozart piano concerto No. 21 in C major that youre playing with the Olympia Symphony did you choose that piece?
A: (Conductor) Huw Edwards chose that. Its a great piece, and of course, the second movement is so famous. Its not a ton of hard work like Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninoff, but its lovely.
Q: Which do you prefer playing concertos or playing recitals?
A: I like them both for different reasons. Playing with an orchestra gives you a big, rich sound, but playing solo has greater flexibility without 60 or 80 other people.
Q: With study and a busy concert schedule, how much practice do you get done?
A: It really varies. Some days none, some days several hours. Never as much as I would like to do, but then I was never one to sit and practice for six hours straight. Even if you held a gun to my head, I couldnt do it. Two and a half hours is my max.
Q: Your website is intriguing you also have a Korean version. (Albrights mother is Korean.) Does it get many followers?
A: I get surprised a lot at that. The No. 1 city for fans on my Facebook page is Seoul. Ive never even played there, which is weird. ... Maybe I should.
Q: Youve done a lot of interesting projects, including your 2011 debut CD and five collaborations with Yo Yo Ma. Anything coming up?
A: Next year, Im doing this big Midwest tour. Its completely different from what Ive done before: Im spending a month at a time in October and February touring tiny towns with one concert every day. Itll be Real World USA.
Q: What do you do in your spare time, if you have any?
A: Its kind of rough I dont have much spare time. I spend a lot of it with my girlfriend, and incredible amounts of time on Facebook and YouTube and other mindless, time-sucking activities. The neat thing about traveling a lot is that I know people in different places, so well meet up, and thats fun.
Q: Do you miss the science and economics part of your studies?
A: I think I was ready to get away from that side of things. To fill out the time, Im doing a lot of composition film scoring, big epic orchestral stuff, learning how to do that. Its been a great hobby and keeps the more technical side of my brain happy.
Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568