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Backstory: The child prodigy in few of us

A symphony by a 14-year-old composer gets this writer all riled up. But what can one do but applaud?

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Nowadays it's probably not acceptable to imply that children be seen and not heard. Nor would it be considered proper to suggest that child prodigies be given neither consideration. Maybe I'm alone in feeling this way, though some five centuries ago Erasmus remarked that "everybody hates a prodigy, detests an old head on young shoulders."

This all came to mind not long ago when I was driving to the grocery store and the public radio station was playing a recording of Jay Greenberg's Symphony No. 5. If you guessed that Greenberg preceded this symphony with four others, that's very astute of you.

Which is not a big deal – this writing of five symphonies – as these things go. After all, Haydn wrote more than 100. What makes Greenberg's symphony stand out is that the composer, who entered Juilliard at age 10, is only 14. Which means the kid is calling the shots for an entire symphony orchestra before we trust him to operate a motor vehicle.

So there I was, perched on the edge of my seat as the opening strains of Greenberg's Fifth rang out. I was coiled like a spring, ready to declare (OK, if only to myself) that it sounded just like something a 14-year-old would write.

But, alas, it didn't. It sounded – to my untrained ears – as capable as anything I've heard from other composers. OK, so the kid's not gonna knock Beethoven or Mahler off his pedestal anytime soon, but he seems to have developed a knack for this symphony-writing stuff.


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