This week a young Derry man will make his U.S. debut as a classical pianist in an almost sold out show at New York’s Carnegie Hall. Cathal Breslin, 31, a former student of Derry’s St. Columb’s College, will start right at the top when he takes to the stage at the celebrated concert hall this Friday, June 26.
In keeping with the venue’s reputation, the guest list will be fit a venue that has hosted many of history’s greatest artists and public figures. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg are on the guest list, as are prominent figures from New York’s Irish American community who bought up their tickets when they went on sale at the start of May.
There’s a good reason for all the interest and ticket sales. When a local boy does good all of Derry usually gets behind him, and this week’s concert is no exception. A contingent of Derry folk are flying over in time for the concert, so expect a particularly rapturous reaction to each musical selection on the night.
Just the idea of playing Carnegie Hall can give some people the sweats, but Breslin, a seasoned professional who is now regarded as one of the top classical pianists in the world, hasn’t a bother on him, as they say in Derry. He’s been practicing constantly as well as performing throughout Europe but he’s not getting cocky about what’s ahead of him.
“I have to put in a lot of preparatory work before the concerts, I can’t just show up!” he told the Irish Voice. “I'm just back from a concert in Warsaw this morning for a quick performance in Dublin and tomorrow evening I’m catching a flight to New York for the Carnegie concert. I’m lucky in that I can sleep on planes, because otherwise I’d never get sleep!"
Breslin’s mother and father, Gloria and Liam Breslin, are understandably bursting with pride over their son’s impending debut. But from an early age they knew their son had a special talent and they nurtured it, driving him hundreds of miles to Dublin and back every Saturday for piano lessons when he was growing up. Now their faith in his talent has reaped undreamed of rewards.
“He was always a very gifted and dedicated musician and his hard work has certainly paid off in spectacular fashion with this debut,” Breslin’s father told the Irish press this week. “We’re combusting with pride over him.”
As with so many Irish success stories, Breslin’s own story has a bit of history and magic behind it too. When his grandfather, Donegal man William Sweeney, arrived in New York back in the 1920s, he passed Carnegie Hall on 57th Street and was dazzled by the well-heeled ladies and gentlemen queuing up to see a violin recital by Bronislaw Huberman.
Tickets to see violinist were too expensive for Breslin’s grandfather but years later, when he had traveled on to San Francisco and started work constructing the Golden Gate Bridge, he put aside a part of his $5.50 weekly wage to buy his first violin. Soon he had the other Irish construction workers crying into their beers.
Said Breslin, “My grandfather always dreamed of going back to Carnegie Hall with his violin to wow the same crowds as the Polish violinist but the Great Depression hit, all the work stopped and his dream of Carnegie Hall evaporated. So he picked up his violin and came home, married and had eight children.”
Ninety years later his grandson is set to take to the stage for his debut piano recital on Friday night. It’s the kind of poetic justice that rarely happens in life, and you can be sure that the magic of it will help set the stage for a concert that will include works by Brahms, Chopin, Messiaen, Prokofiev, a world premiere by Phillip Hammond, and a piece by that completely over the top but thoroughly challenging composer Franz Liszt (who really tests what a pianist is made of).
“Playing piano is my life, and it feels like I have been preparing for concerts like this all of my life,” says Breslin. “It’s definitely a big arrival point in my career.”
There are a few tickets left for the New York concert. They are available to book online at www.carnegiehall.org priced between $25-$35.