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Teen pianist from Elizabeth Township competes in online contest

| Tuesday, April 2, 2013, 12:41 a.m.
Patrick Cloonan | Daily News
Mon Yough Catholic School eighth-grader Nathan Pallotta, 14, of Elizabeth Township auditions for WQED-89.3’s Musical Kids competition which begins online later this week at

Nathan Pallotta started taking music lessons at the age of 10.

Sometime later, he started loving the piano, winning competitions — and attracting the attention of WQED-89.3, which features him this month in an online contest.

“It was ‘Rustle of Spring' that got me started,” Nathan said, referring to an 1896 work by Norwegian composer Christian Sindling.

“It happened to be his grandma's favorite piece,” said his father Anthony Pallotta. “She had a history of playing the piano.”

It propelled him from the lessons he was taking from Sister Geraldine Vargo of the Divine Redeemer Motherhouse in Elizabeth to enrollment in March 2010 at the City Music Center at Duquesne University's Mary Pappert School of Music.

It also has led to competitions, from his two years as a Steinway Society Young Artist to winning first place at a festival last year in Toronto.

On the public FM's website, the 14-year-old Elizabeth Township resident will be featured in a “musical kids” contest beginning Thursday.

“We want to acknowledge all the great works that these kids are doing,” producer Joanna Marie said, after hearing Nathan's audition last week at FM 89.3's Fred Rogers studio in Oakland.

For that audition Nathan chose “In Memoriam to the Victims of Chernobyl,” a musical eulogy to the victims of the April 26, 1986, nuclear plant explosion in the former Soviet republic of Ukraine by Larysa Kuzmenko, a member of the faculty of music at the University of Toronto.

“I actually had the chance to meet the composer up in Toronto,” Nathan recalled.

Nathan is among 61 young artists who entered a contest that coincided with WQED's 40th anniversary of offering classical music and other fine arts programs.

WQED's radio operation has expanded to two HD channels in Pittsburgh, one running recordings of concerts by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and other organizations, and to a simulcast with WQEJ-89.7 in Johnstown.

WQED also syndicates Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra concerts via Public Radio International. It is part of a relationship with the PSO that dates back to WQED-13's sign-on in 1954.

“We had a panel of judges narrow it down to 15 finalists,” Marie said. Nathan is the only finalist from the Mon-Yough region.

Those judges, all from Pittsburgh's classical music scene, will choose five winners, while the public can go to starting Thursday and continuing through April 26 and vote for their favorite.

Each of the six winners will be presented with a plaque and various gifts at an event at their school.

The Snee-Reinhardt Charitable Foundation of Pittsburgh is funding the contest.

Nathan's winning recognition as a Steinway Society Young Artist put him in the public eye, performing solo recitals in the lobby of Heinz Hall during intermissions of PSO concerts. His most recent performance there was in November.

On Dec. 2 he won first place in the piano competition at the Ukrainian Festival in Toronto. His City Music Center teacher Taras Filenko was an adjudicator at that event.

Nathan still takes lessons at the Divine Redeemer Motherhouse.

“Sister Geraldine has been teaching music for over 48 years,” Nathan's mother Jeannie Pallotta said. “She has recently started teaching organ lessons to Nathan.”

His talents go beyond music.

“I like to draw and sketch,” Nathan said.

“He's very adept at Photoshop,” his father said. “He likes filmmaking.”

Nathan performed for the 150th anniversary of the Sisters of the Divine Redeemer and plays piano for the weekly Mass at Mon Yough Catholic School in White Oak, where he's in eighth grade.

Nathan moved there after seven years at North Huntingdon Township's Queen of Angels School. He plans to attend Serra Catholic High School this fall and plans to continue his musical studies beyond high school.

“He is looking forward to many more years of learning and making music and art with others,” his mother said.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or

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