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100 young pianists play at Tilles Center

Forget, for just a moment, about the sound. Picture the sight: 50 piano keyboards on one stage, each instrument with two children at its bench, 200 hands on the keys, 1,000 fingers flying simultaneously over the ivories.

Now, imagine the sound.

That's what spectators will hear at 4 p.m. Sunday at Tilles Center in Brookville, during the New York debut of "101 Pianists." One hundred children ages 6 to 18, most from Long Island, have been practicing all summer to learn "Marche Militaire No. 1" by Schubert and "Rondo Alla Turca" by Mozart.

Pianist No. 101 will be Lang Lang -- pronounced LAHng LAHng. He's a 32-year-old emotive and hip concert pianist of worldwide renown who hails from a small Chinese town and has gone on to perform at the 2014 World Cup concert in Rio de Janeiro and the 56th Grammy Awards, where he played with Metallica.

Lang Lang leads

Lang Lang will lead the children in a massive, onstage master class, says Stephanie Turner, director of arts education at Tilles. "He'll give them instruction during the performance itself," she says. "That's what people want to see. Because he's such a master, they want to see how he works with kids."

Harry Divaris, 12, of Port Jefferson, is one of the 100. He's watched Lang Lang on YouTube, and he is awestruck by the performer. "To play with him, I thought it would be a really great honor," Harry says. "He'll conduct us while he's playing. He's so focused."

Harry has been practicing 40 to 45 minutes a day for months with his bench partner -- who happens to be his younger sister, Marina, 11 -- in preparation for the Big Day.

"To play with one of the best pianists in the world is really exciting," Marina says.

"I'm nervous in case I mess up," Harry says. Ditto Marina.

'Fun idea'

Lang Lang has done the hourlong 101 Pianists event in other countries, including China, Germany, Canada, Italy and England. He's also led the program in San Francisco and at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

The performance at Tilles is the first 101 Pianists event in New York. "It's a fun idea, going to a city and calling 100 young pianists to play," Lang Lang said in a phone interview. "You get the kids to practice beforehand. They partner with another kid. It's much more fun for them than practicing alone. They're more excited about playing."

Harry and Marina's mom, Linda Sbarra, confirmed that. "It gives them something to work towards, a goal," she says. "Sometimes it can get sort of tiresome, practicing."

And practice has been more lively, Harry and Marina say. Especially when Harry accidentally elbows Marina. "That's when she gets mad at me, when I hit her with my elbow," Harry says.

One solo

A call went out to Long Island piano and music teachers earlier this year, soliciting applicants. After reviewing 250 written applications, Tilles invited 150 children to audition in June, and selected 100. Accepted students paid $50 to cover costs, Turner says.

One child -- 10-year-old Christopher Zandieh of Muttontown -- was chosen to perform a solo piece during the concert, called "Tiger in the Sun." "I was like, 'What?! He's 10!" says Christopher's mom, Kathleen. "I think we're both freaked out. I'm excited. It'll be like any other recital . . . but there'll be hundreds of people in the audience."

Stephen Parks contributed to this story.

WHAT 101 Pianists with Lang Lang

WHEN | WHERE 4 p.m. Sunday, Tilles Center for the Performing Arts, 720 Northern Blvd., Brookville

INFO $23 or $15, depending on seat location; 516-299-2752;


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