Pint-sized Piano Powerhouse

By Jason Lee

  Caterina Dottino, 9, of Huntington, performed in the Young Artists Piano Showcase at Carnegie Hall on June 28.

Caterina Dottino, 9, of Huntington, performed in the Young Artists Piano Showcase at Carnegie Hall on June 28.

Every musician knows that it takes practice to get to Carnegie Hall. But how much practice, exactly? For 9-year-old Caterina Dottino, about six years' worth.

Caterina, who will be entering fourth grade in September at the Long Island School for the Gifted in Huntington, was among 15 soloists 8 to 17 years old to perform in the winners’ concert of the Young Artists Piano Showcase in front of family and friends at one of the most prestigious concert halls in the world on June 28.

The opportunity to appear in the showcase was available to music students from around the country. The standards were high. The 30 applicants were required to submit videos of themselves performing two contrasting classical piano pieces by memory.

“Everyone performs at a high level,” said Anthony Newton, founder and director of the event and an adjunct teacher at the Lawrence Eisman Center for Preparatory Studies in Music at Queens College in Flushing, Queens.

In order to advance to the winners’ concert, the soloists first auditioned live in front of three judges.

Caterina said she was not nervous during the auditions. “It was fairly easy for me,” she said. “They were nice.”

Caterina takes four one-hour private piano lessons a week, and practices another two hours on her own daily. She practiced her concert piece, “Sonatina in C Major,” by Friedrich Kuhlau for three months.

“Kuhlau is my favorite,” she said.

Caterina, the second youngest pianists in the group, said she also wasn’t nervous about performing at Carnegie Hall. Instead, she focused on her technique while playing -- “trying not to make any mistakes.”

“It was perfect,” said Caterina about her performance. As she watched a video of herself playing at the concert, the 4-foot, 5-inch pianist’s hands meticulously air-played the piece on a table.

While at Carnegie, Caterina was taken by the hall’s magnificent decorations and the grand piano she performed on.

“I really liked the piano,” she said. “…and the chandelier. It was sparkly.”

Caterina’s parents, Amos and Janet, have encouraged her musical ambitions.

“She was always happy when she was around music,” said Janet.

After Caterina walked up to a piano in the mall at 3 years old, sat down and started to feign playing, the Dottino’s began looking into piano lessons for her.

“We found out Queen’s College offers class for kids from 3 to 18,” Janet said. “She could read at 2, so she was able to focus and follow rhythm.” Caterina has been studying music at CPSM ever since.

For the past five years, Caterina has also taken private lessons with Michele Jordan, an instructor in Port Washington.

“I appreciate her dedication,” Jordan said of Caterina. “She has come a really long way in her past year of studying. Her ability to convey the feeling of the music has matured. She plays very musically and is very technically proficient.”

Jordan said she wasn’t surprised when she heard Caterina got in to play in the showcase. “I thought she would probably get in. It’s a great experience.”

In addition to playing piano, Caterina sings in the Saint Patrick Youth Choir.

However, more of the young musician’s energy goes to learning piano and her education. “First is school, then piano,” said her father, Amos.

The Dottinos said they would support their daughter if she decided to become a professional pianist, but Caterina isn’t sure if that’s what she wants to be. “Maybe a scientist, or an artist,” she said.