Dobyns-Bennett student performs in Carnegie Hall

Holly Viers • Jun 7, 2019 at 7:30 AM

KINGSPORT — Few pianists can say they’ve performed in a famous New York City concert hall. Even fewer can say they’ve done it twice.

But Emily Cai, a 15-year-old rising junior at Dobyns-Bennett High School, has done just that. Last fall, Cai performed at Steinway Hall after winning third place in the Brooklyn Music Teachers Guild competition. Then on May 27, she took it a step further by performing at Carnegie Hall, a feat even more difficult to achieve.

“Emily is a very good performer,” said Carol Stone, Cai’s instructor and owner of Carol Stone Piano Studio. “Some kids recede; they’re a little more nervous … but Emily actually gets better when she’s on stage. She’s amazing.”

The road to Carnegie

Cai was invited to perform as a soloist in Carnegie Hall after being named a third-place winner in the junior division of the American Protégé International Piano & Strings Competition. Cai, along with other first-, second- and third-place winners, took the stage individually at a winners’ recital, where they performed in front of a live audience.

For her competition entry, Cai chose to submit a clip of herself playing “Liebestraume” by Franz Liszt. She was named one of the winners earlier this year, giving her a few months to rehearse the piece for the winners’ recital.

“This one was definitely more nerve-wracking, because it was the actual Carnegie Hall instead of Steinway,” Cai said of her performance. “I was probably more nervous, too, beforehand. But every time I’m really nervous beforehand, whenever I walk onto the stage, I’m not really that nervous. I just concentrate on myself and not focus on the audience.”

Though Stone couldn’t attend Cai’s recital in person, she watched a recording of the performance and was more than impressed.

“She played it better than I’d ever heard her play it,” Stone said. “It just brought tears to my eyes. I thought it was so amazing.”

A track record of success

Cai has had no shortage of success in piano competitions. She was previously a top finisher at the Bristol Music Club Competition, which she plans to enter again next year.

After her high school graduation, Cai plans to pursue a degree in engineering or computer science, with a possible minor in piano. No matter what, Cai said she is “definitely still going to play piano during college.”

“I’d just like for Emily to serve as an inspiration to the Tri-Cities area,” Stone said, “and for young students to see that it is possible to reach very big heights in piano and go to Carnegie Hall … and that it makes a huge difference in their lives.”

Stone invites students with a strong work ethic and drive for success to study at her studio. For more information, call (423) 967-9466.

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