‘He got it’: Northampton Community Music Center student plays Beethoven at Carnegie Hall

  • Nikhil Sierros, of Florence, talks at Northampton Community Music Center about his experience playing piano at Carnegie Hall. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Nikhil Sierros, of Florence, plays the Third Movement of Beethoven’s Sonata 14, Tuesday, Feb. 11, at Northampton Community Music Center. He played the piece at Carnegie Hall on Feb. 8. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Nikhil Sierros, of Florence, talks to his piano teacher, Michèle Smith, before his lesson at Northampton Community Music Center. She has been his teacher since he was 6 years old. He played the Third Movement of Beethoven’s Sonata 14 at Carnegie Hall on Feb. 8. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Nikhil Sierros, of Florence, plays the Third Movement of Beethoven’s Sonata 14 at Northampton Community Music Center. He played the piece at Carnegie Hall on Feb. 8. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Michèle Smith talks with Nikhil Sierros, of Florence, before his lesson, Tuesday, Feb. 11, at Northampton Community Music Center. She has been his teacher since he was 6 years old. He played the Third Movement of Beethoven’s Sonata 14 at Carnegie Hall on Feb. 8. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 2/26/2020 12:39:29 PM

When Nikhil Sierros recently sat down at the piano to play the third and final movement of Beethoven’s “Piano Sonata No. 14,” the 17-year-old Florence teen flexed his fingers, took a deep breath and focused.

The reasons for his stoic preparations were obvious from the very first note, as Sierros’ fingers exploded up the keys with remarkable presto agitato speed.

The piece — more commonly known as “Moonlight Sonata” — is divided into three movements, the first of which feels like a slow lamentation. That stands in stark contrast to the third and final movement Sierros played, which is a powerful, minor-key sprint through lightening-fast arpeggios, pounding basslines and heavily accented sforzando notes.

The movement is physically and technically demanding. There are 10 pages of music that Sierros had to memorize, the piece lasting for six minutes exhausting minutes. The pianist and writer Charles Rosen once called it “the most unbridled in its representation of emotion.”

“Even today, two hundred years later, its ferocity is astonishing,” Rosen wrote in his 2002 book “Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas: A Short Companion.”

It is one thing to play that piece in front of your family and teacher, as Sierros has been doing for a year with his longtime instructor at the Northampton Community Music Center, Michèle Smith.

It is quite another experience, however, to play it before an audience at Carnegie Hall. That’s where Sierros was recently invited to perform together with other invitees after his mother, Sunita, surprised him by entering a video of his performance into the Crescendo International Competition.

“He heard this song two years ago,” Sunita said. “He heard someone playing it on the internet, he showed it to me and I was like, ‘You’re crazy, there’s no way you’re ready to learn this.’”

But he was ready, and Sunita watched as he became enamoured with the song and practiced for a long time. She didn’t tell him her plans to submit the performance until shortly before sending in the application.

“He was like, ‘What, you didn’t tell me?!,’” she recalled with a laugh. “By the grace of God, he got it.”

So, on Saturday, Feb. 8, the family drove down to New York City, where they prepared for Sierros’ big moment.

“We got there early,” his mother said. “It was just pretty surreal standing outside the hallowed gates of Carnegie Hall waiting to go in, our son in a bowtie.”

Sierros has always performed with little hesitation, always eager to share his music, his mother said. Music has always been relaxing for Sierros, she said.

“He’s loved to perform since he was 6 years old; he is never nervous,” his mother, Sunita, said. “He loved to play. He loved to show people what he can do.”

Sierros is a varsity tennis captain at Williston-Northampton, and a student who takes his studies seriously. Sitting down to the piano and learning a piece, he said, is an escape from everything else.

“Music helps me sort of calm down,” he said.

But naturally, playing at Carnegie Hall for the first time, in front of such a large crowd, changed that dynamic — at least at first.

“It was very stressful, actually,” Sierros said. “But once I got on stage, everything just sort of disappeared and it was just me and the piano.”

And so he played, telling himself that if he made a mistake there was no turning back. Eventually, he said he became comfortable enough to look up from the keys, settling into the muscle memory he had built up for so long.

What motivates someone to learn such a complex song by heart? How does someone go about such a daunting task?

For Sierros, the act is a labor of love, something he has felt drawn to since he was 3 years old, when his parents had to hold him back from running to the piano during his older sister’s recitals. Now that he has learned such a difficult piece, he said he will carry it with him forever.

That’s how Sierros described the experience to Smith, who was eager to hear from Sierros when he arrived back at his regular lesson on Tuesday.

“My computer is broken, so what happened?” she asked eagerly as he sat down to the piano in the small practice room at the Northampton Community Music Center.

Sierros excitedly described the giant Steinway & Sons brand piano on stage, how he pondered whether to bow before or after the piece, and his mom told him the power of the piece “woke up” the crowd after many other songs played at higher registers.

So what now that Sierros has summited the mountain, playing the Everest of pieces at a venue graced by the world’s greatest musicians?

Sierros said music won’t be in his professional future, but that it will always be a part of his life — skills that he wants to continue “nurturing.” And the third movement of “Piano Sonata No. 14” will now always be in his repertoire.

“I did it!” he said. “It was a huge sense of accomplishment.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061
413-584-5000

 

Copyright © 2019 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy