Dominic Cheli Makes Walt Disney Concert Hall Debut with a Childhood Favorite

Dominic Cheli will perform Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 at Walt Disney Concert Hall with conductor Valery Gergiev.

Playing the Prokofiev makes my hands feel like they are dancing on the keyboard in light, as well as muscular ways. I love playing this piece, and that’s something I hope to convey. Dominic Cheli

Dominic Cheli, a third-year Artist Diploma candidate in the studio of Fabio Bidini, is a pianist on the cusp of his performing career. His 2018–19 season is packed full of recitals and concerto appearances, including his Carnegie Hall debut in March.

Tonight’s performance in Walt Disney Concert Hall, though, he considers a pivotal and defining moment for him as a pianist. He’ll be appearing with esteemed Russian conductor Valery Gergiev in a program including Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3. We spoke to Dominic about the piece, the concert, and what is up next for him.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity, length, and style.

Tell me about the piece you are performing.

Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto is a piece that I remember being captivated by as a young boy. It’s a very exciting work, and it has something for everyone to enjoy. It features Prokofiev at his best where everything is rhythmically captivating, like ballet music. It has wonderful, quirky, sarcastic melodies. Prokofiev described the third movement as “an argument between the orchestra and the piano.” The whole movement is like a boxing match between the two entities. This can create some exciting dynamics, especially the ending, which is one of my favorite endings in all of music. It’s so exciting, raucous, and exhilarating.

What does it mean to you to perform this piece with Valery Gergiev at Walt Disney Concert Hall?

This is one of the most important performances of my career at this point. I have been to Disney Hall many times, but have not performed there, so it’s an honor to share the stage with Valery Gergiev, who is one of my favorite living conductors. For me, he’s a living legend. He’s contributed so much to the arts in the world and conducted many important premieres and works.

The Prokofiev Concerto is one that he has conducted many times. He brings a very interesting and fresh perspective to it.

What about performing with your Colburn peers?

It’s always appealing to be playing with people that I know, whether it’s chamber music or concertos, because I feel like you can connect with the other players in a personal way. The piece is large-scale chamber music, with the solos being passed off between instruments.

How did it feel when Colburn announced that this would be on the season?

I was thrilled about this piece in particular, and I was happy that all of the stars were able to align to make this happen. Gergiev is one of the busiest conductors working today—sometimes he even performs in multiple countries on the same day—so it’s so special that he can be here. The fact that Disney Hall, Gergiev, Prokofiev all came together—I was just elated.

What are you working on right now to prepare?

One of the most important things I did was about a week and a half ago. I was in New York City, and my management set up a concert at Yamaha Artist Services to do a run-through of the Prokofiev. I was joined by a Colburn alumnus, Albert Cano-Smit, who played the orchestral accompaniment—which is not easy. It is always a great experience to perform a piece of music in a public setting as I find that I learn so much about the piece and myself when the music finally leaves the practice room.

For me, though, it’s more of a mental thing now. I know the notes. I know how to play them, and I don’t have to remind myself of that fact constantly. It’s more about having good mental focus and listening to recordings, ingraining more and more the orchestral parts, so that when I imagine the piece I hear all the parts as clearly as possible.

What do you have coming up after this?

The most important concert coming up is my Carnegie Hall debut in March 2019. It’s a ways away, but I’m finalizing the program and will be doing a world premiere by the composer David Hertzberg. I have other concerto performances with the Princeton Symphony, Columbus Symphony, Great Falls Symphony, and a few others, in addition to recitals across the country.

That’s a pretty busy schedule.

Yeah, I’m pretty busy! But this concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall means a lot to me. It’s a very difficult concerto, but at the same time, it’s fun to play. Playing the Prokofiev makes my hands feel like they are dancing on the keyboard in light, as well as muscular ways. I love playing this piece, and that’s something I hope to convey.

If you haven’t yet gotten your tickets, reserve your seat today. The concert is at 7 pm on Tuesday, October 23 at Walt Disney Concert Hall. In addition to the Prokofiev, the performance features Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony and excerpts from Eugene Onegin.