Eighteen-year-old Kevin Jansson, like his peers at Presentation College, Cork, is embracing life after secondary school. The last exam is done, and Jansson has departed for America.
After the intensity of cramming for state exams, devoting himself to piano studies at Aspen Summer Music School, in the Colorado mountains, “will be heaven”, he said the day before he left.
This month, Jansson was awarded one of Ireland’s biggest music prizes, the RDS Music Bursary, which is worth €15,000 for further studies. It marks him as one of our brightest young hopefuls, with potential to develop an international career.
Jansson has already begun transitioning from student to professional pianist. Not many Irish teenagers have a recording under their belt and a string of overseas concert engagements in their diary. In August, Jansson will embark on a concert tour of five Polish cities, on foot of having won the 2018 Jeune Chopin Competition, in Geneva.
Chopin is a composer with a special appeal for Jansson. “No composer makes the piano sound as extraordinary and beautiful, and all of those wonderful things, as Chopin does,” says Jansson. “The way he blends the sound is incredible, along with how he uses the pedal. It is just pure beauty.”
The child of musical parents, Tom and Marion, Jansson is from Wilton in Cork. Sadly, his mother passed away last year. Both his sisters, Ellen and Anna, are also talented pianists.
But piano wasn’t inevitable for Kevin. Described as a “remarkably gifted switch-hitter” by an American reviewer on his debut at Carnegie Hall, he has taken many violin honours, including leading the National Youth Orchestra and the Fiddle Slow Airs, at the Fleadh Ceoil.
I didn’t take music seriously until I was 13. Then, I really started practicing. When I was 15, I was thinking about maths and physics, but it just didn’t give me the same level of satisfaction.
"At 16, I was sure I was going to do music, but it wasn’t until 2018 that I decided I was going to concentrate on the piano. Looking back, I think I always knew it would be the piano for me, but I had to work it out for myself.”
In September, Jansson will move to New York to study with Veda Kaplinsky at the prestigious Juilliard Music School. There is excitement in his voice, as he enthuses about the prospect of being at the heart of the vibrant cultural scene in New York.
“The college is right next to the Lincoln Centre. Carnegie Hall is just eight blocks away.”
Finghin Collins invited Kevin to play at the launch of the New Ross Piano Festival in 2014. Collins, perhaps the leading Irish pianist of his generation, gave me his perspective on Jansson.
“Kevin possesses many of the qualities necessary to make a successful career as a concert pianist,” says Collins. “Firstly, he is supremely talented and gifted with a natural musicianship. Secondly, he appears to have a very serious approach to his craft, a work ethic and dedication to preparation and practice.
“As he moves to the next stage, embarking on studies in the USA, it will be fascinating to see how his career will develop, how he will succeed in the major international competitions, and establish himself on the international scene.”