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Piano concert to benefit free breast cancer screenings

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As the Beatles would sing, be sure to “tell Tchaikovsky the news.”

Teen concert pianist prodigy Christopher Tavernier and his tutor Dr. John Cobb will play together Saturday at 7 p.m. in Diana Wortham Theatre in a multi-media show. Their playing duets without solos is a new twist to their second annual benefit concert for a program providing women with free mammograms to screen for breast cancer and try to prevent its lethal affliction.

All proceeds go to Mission Health’s Foundation, for Mission and Buncombe Health’s joint Ladies Night Out program offers free physicals, mammograms, blood pressure and cholesterol screenings on the first Thursday of each month.

Tavernier is happy to dedicate his talent to benefit others. “It’s very rewarding. I enjoy giving back to the community — mainly with music” and also in Beta Club community projects. He is in eighth grade, in Hendersonville Middle School.

Born in the new Millennium, he turned 14 on May 2. He has grown to 5-foot-7. Last fall at 13, he was hailed as the youngest concert pianist to perform in a professional show ever in the state. He did so, accompanying the Tar River Philharmonic Orchestra in Rocky Mount. He has won several competitions against elder youth and adults, both in piano and chess. His parents are Bob and Kim Tavernier, of Hendersonville. Cobb and his wife, Gwen Roberts, live in Asheville.

Nicholas Tavernier, who turns 9 Sept. 22, also plays piano. He said his brother’s play is impressive by “how fast he moves his hands.” Also amazed patrons who packed Tryon Arts Center Aug. 24, for the first of two identical concerts in the duo’s World Masterwork Series. More than 300 tickets were sold. By late last week, merely about 55 of 500 tickets in Wortham remained.

A visual bonus is projected views of each pianist’s fast-moving hands on giant screens, sandwiched around a slide show of images of each of three Romantic Age legendary composers whose works are played. The slides were compiled mostly by Bob Tavernier, and Joann Freeburg.

Christopher knows works so well he snuck a glimpse at the slide show in Tryon, seeing Sergei Rachmaninoff sticking his tongue out and hearing the crowd laugh. Yet he and Cobb have impeccable timing, focusing on their playing and monitoring the other person’s. And he mostly tunes out the audience until “close to the end of the piece. Then, I’ll pay attention to what’s going on around me.”

First up is Franz Liszt (1811-86). Liszt tops the list of Tavernier and Cobb’s favorites. They do Liszt’s intricate version in 1877 of “Reminiscences of Don Juan,” a 15-minute adaption of Mozart’s three-hour opera “Don Giovanni.” Hungarian Liszt is considered the most technically-intricate pianist ever, and first to play on a full keyboard. Liszt’s teacher’s teacher was Ludwig van Beethoven. Beethoven’s seventh-general musical “descendant” is Tavernier, via Cobb.

Next are two Russians. Rachmaninoff’s (1873-1943) penned “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Opus 42” in 1934. Politically conservative, he came to this country from Russia amidst its Communist Revolution. The romantic instrumental theme for the 1980 film “Somewhere in Time” is derived from the concerto.

It varies in tempo and mood, with 24 “variations” from three basic themes. Tavernier likes the variety. “Each variation requires a different amount of focus and energy,” he said. “You change the key, rhythm, and the speeds. It even goes backwards.”

After intermission is Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s (1840-93) 38-minute “Piano Concerto No. 1 in B Flat Minor, Opus 23” from 1874. Van Cliburn won a contest in Moscow in 1958 in the Cold War’s chill, playing this piece. Photos of him with Soviet dictator Nikita Khrushchev are in the slide show. This famed concerto’s second movement is a theme of the TV hit “Mad Men.”

Tavernier likes customizing, to “increase the tempo” with a flurry of fast notes. He already writes classical music. He likes a moving sonatina (short sonata). He prefers “dark” brooding sound of C-minor, also D and G-minor.

He is a Perzina performing artist, through Freeburg Pianos in Hendersonville. Owner Keith Freeburg noted 6-1 Perzina T-188s are used in the concert. He explained they sound like a parlor grand, due to a wide soundboard’s extra vibration. They are tuned for “equal beating Victorian temperament,” for a “peaceful sound of changing ‘color,’” Freeburg said. The sound is further enhanced by Wortham acoustics.

Cobb terms Tavernier a “young genius,” already at college grad proficiency. He was extremely polite and pleasantly shy, as they greeted patrons after the show in Tryon. He said he is “very grateful” for his parents’ efforts.

Tavernier said he listens to classical music, and “almost everything I listen to, I want to learn.” He has mastered Liszt’s and others’ catalogues. He likes studying U.S. history. He would have liked as a vacation to play piano in the late 1800s.

He does not bother with social media. He watches L.A. Galaxy pro soccer. His step-brother Mike Tavernier pitched for Western Carolina University. As a Florida A&M freshman, he nearly beat Notre Dame in playoffs.

Tickets for Saturday are general admission, priced lower this year at $8. To reserve tickets, call Wortham Theatre at 257-4530.

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