Making a splash: Young pianist kicks off Philharmonic’s new season

The discipline of music occasionally seems very much like the discipline of competitive swimming.

Every so often, in his mind, Drew Petersen compares the two, since he spent about 10 hours weekly in the pool as a high school athlete.

“I just wish playing music burned a few more calories,” said the 24-year-old rising young recital and orchestral star.

Here’s to seeing Petersen making a bigger splash in music — including kicking off the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic’s new season Saturday — than he ever did in the water. He most recently won the 2017 American Pianists Awards competition that stretched 13 months. But the part-time graduate student at the prestigious Julliard School in New York hardly is one to mention such successes.

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He is so unassuming, practical and down-to-earth that he still lives with his parents in Bergen County, New Jersey.

“I’m on the road a lot and hardly ever home,” he said. “I can’t be worried about moving a big, expensive piano from apartment to apartment.”

Besides, he acknowledged that his family keeps him rooted and grounded in a field where egos have been known to expand with audience sizes. And Petersen, who reads classic novels such as Henry James’ “The Portrait of a Lady” while on flights to such far-flung concert hall locales as the Czech Republic, Israel, France, Switzerland, Asia — you name it — aims to remain aware of who he is.

“He is like a Renaissance man,” said Columbus Indiana Philharmonic Music Director David Bowden.

Petersen has said that music is heavily mental. And for one who graduated cum laude from Harvard University at only 19, that sounds like wonderful news.

He played at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall at age 5. At age 9, he performed a solo recital at Steinway Hall in Manhattan for the company’s 150th Anniversary. Since then, he’s been performing nationwide and has taken top honors at five major piano competitions.

With the Philharmonic, he will perform George Gershwin’s three-movement piano concerto at Judson Erne Auditorium.

“What’s really great about it is that it there’s so much variety in it,” Petersen said, adding that he has played the composer’s “Rhapsody in Blue” more often. “And I think Gershwin had more time in this piece to explore a few more things.”

“That takes a really spectacular pianist, because it’s certainly not an easy piece,” said Bowden, who began his career as a pianist at about the same age as Petersen. “But he’s got the goods (to be great). You can tell.”

Petersen, a University of Indianapolis artist-in-residence, mentioned that his musical pace is picking up speed as his spotlight grows. He laughed about his cellist brother Eric, referring to him as a workaholic.

“I think part of that is partly a question of the environment that you regularly find yourself in,” Petersen said.

He made an interesting point. Being at Julliard, among some of the top musical minds and performers in the world, extreme dedication, sacrifice and a huge time investment are givens.

When he needs a break from the practice room or rehearsal hall, he runs — and humorously even included a playful clip of himself huffing and puffing near his home while musing over the American Pianists Awards competition and the importance of de-stressing. He also gets away from it all with war-strategy board games such as Axis & Allies.

But he laughed considerably when told that at least one website reports that he reads history textbooks for fun. Not yet, anyway.

For now, Drew Petersen doesn’t have that much time to give to the past. Not with his probable, splashy future just waiting gloriously for him.

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What: Columbus Indiana Philharmonic season opener with guest pianist Drew Petersen performing the jazzy George Gershwin piano concerto. The concert also will include a salute to Leonard Bernstein for his his 100th birthday.

When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 15.

Where: Judson Erne Auditorium, 1400 25th St. in Columbus.

Tickets: $15 to $60. Season tickets also still available.

Information: 812-376-2638 or