18-year-old pianist wows crowd performing Rachmaninoff at Grand Rapids Youth Symphony concert

Sami Ahmad
Sami Ahmad is this year’s Grand Rapids Youth Symphony’s Piano Concerto Winner

By Joanne Bailey-Boorsma



Most would admit – whether musicians or just lovers of classical music – that Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 is one of the more difficult pieces for a pianist to master.


So it was bit of a surprise when 18-year-old Sami Ahmad performed it at the 2016 Grand Rapids Youth Symphony’s Piano Concerto Competition held this past January.


“It was amazing,” said Kin M. Ma, who heard Ahmad perform the concerto during the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony’s March 6 concert where Ahmad was the featured soloist.


“I chose the Rachmaninoff because two years ago I was looking for a concerto to play,” said Ahamd, who attends both Portage Northern High School and Kalamazoo Area Mathematics and Science Center. “So I printed the score and found that my hands could reach the big opening chords so I played through the first few pages and listened to a bunch of recordings and found I really loved the piece.


“I have asked my teacher [Susan Wiersma Uchimura] to play it ever since then and this year, she finally said yes. So I have been playing it for about a year now. “


Ahmad certainly showed he had mastered the piece as he went on to win the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony’s Piano Concerto where he earned a $300 cash prize along with the honor of being the featured soloist at the March concert. That concert will be broadcasted on WKTV (channel 25 on Comcast, channel 26 on AT&T, and channel 99 on U-verse) Saturday, March 19, at 8 p.m., Tuesday, March 22, at 9 p.m. and Saturday, March 26, at 10 p.m.


Besides featuring Ahmad, the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony’s second concert of the season also included Mozart’s Sinfonie in A KV 201 featuring the Grand Rapids Classical Orchestra. Franck’s “Le Chasseur Maudit” also was on the concert program and the performance finished with Berlioz’s “Symponie Fantastique,” a popular piece that has been featured in the films “The Shining” and “Sleeping with the Enemy.”


As Ahmad, who has performed with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, the Kalamazoo Junior Symphony, and at the Grand Rapids Bach Festival, finishes up his high school career, he said his plans to pursue a major in the history of science and medicine with at least a minor in music. He has not yet selected a college.


The Grand Rapids Youth Symphony, under the leadership of John Varineau who is also the Grand Rapids Symphony’s associate conductor, was formed in 1959 with the goal of bring together West Michigan’s most talented young musicians to rehearse and perform together under professional standards. In 2000, the Classical Orchestra was founded and focuses on musical literature from the Classical period.


The Grand Rapids Youth Symphony’s last performance of the season is May 1 at 3 p.m. at DeVos Performance Hall, 303 Monroe Ave. SW. Tickets will be available at the door.


For more information on the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony, click here. For more on upcoming programs at WKTV, click here.



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