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1/18/2018 9:00:00 AM
LaSalle alum wins major piano prize

In November, Ryan Reilly, a 25-year-old Delmar native and alumnus of LaSalle Institute in Troy, became the first American to take home the prestigious Frenchilla-Zuloaga international piano prize.

The grueling international piano competition took place in Valladolid, Spain. The contest is sponsored by the Valladolid Provincial Council to encourage piano playing among young people.

Twenty-one competitors, all under the age of 35, each performed several times before judges and audiences over the course of four days. In the first two rounds, pianists performed solo; then three finalists performed concertos with an orchestra.

Mr. Reilly's repertoire for the first round was a prelude and fugue by Johann Sebastian Bach and etudes by Frederic Chopin and Russian composer Alexander Scriabin. In the second round, he played Franz Schubert's "Sonata D. 960" and "Triana" by Isaac Albeniz, a Spanish composer. Mr. Reilly finished with Sergei Rachmaninoff's "Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18."

In addition to winning first place overall, Ryan took home the award for the best performer of Spanish music and the audience award. The winner of the Frenchilla-Zuloaga International Piano Prize receives a cash prize of 12,000 Euros; as the best performer of Spanish music, Mr. Reilly also received another 3,000 Euros.

Keyed up
The pianist is currently earning his second master's degree at Haute Ecole de Musique in Geneva, Switzerland, but his musical journey began at the age of four, when he started piano lessons at the Music Studio in Albany.

Mr. Reilly, whose family attends St. Thomas parish in Delmar, told The Evangelist that his mother signed him up for lessons because his older cousins were playing the piano. He found it fun from the beginning.

"I really liked playing [piano] - and I really liked playing things that my teachers told me I wasn't ready to play," he said. "If I heard something that I liked, even if they thought it was too hard for me, I would just learn it."

While at LaSalle Institute, Mr. Reilly played on the school's basketball and soccer teams. He was also the pianist for the school band. In his freshman year of high school, he gave up basketball and soccer in order to focus more on music: "I spent a lot of time at the piano."

In 2016, Mr. Reilly graduated from The Juilliard School with pre-college, bachelors and master's degrees. He studied piano with Prof. Julian Martin.

Mr. Reilly said he has a number of people at LaSalle to thank for helping him advance so far in his music career - people who supported his talents and encouraged his study of music from the start.

"Brother Carl [Malacalza, FSC, principal of LaSalle until 2015] literally let me miss a week of school [to] prepare for my audition for Juilliard for undergrad. All the brothers were very supportive," he said. "Mr. [Tim] Fitzmaurice was the dean of academics, and he always let me miss school if I had a concert or a competition and encouraged my participation in music -- as he said, because it was just as important as my education."

Other teachers put up with him pretending to practice piano at his desk. Mr. Reilly said they had "some of the most positive influences" on him.

Mr. Reilly was also a member of the Empire State Youth Orchestra. He went on tour with the group in Europe in his sophomore year of high school, and got to play a concerto with them at Troy Music Hall. He said he really enjoyed his time with ESYO, and called it a great "little community of young musicians."

These days
Mr. Reilly's studies at Haute Ecole de Musique in Geneva are under the guidance of Dominique Weber. Mr. Weber was close with Mr. Reilly's previous piano teacher at Julliard, so the young pianist decided to follow Mr. Weber to the school in Switzerland. Mr. Reilly said that Switzerland is beautiful and he loves working with the professor. In his spare time, Mr. Reilly loves to run, hang out with friends and watch sports. In his visits home during school breaks, most of his time is spent catching up with his two younger brothers.

Unsure of his future plans after his graduation from Haute Ecole de Musique this June, Mr. Reilly is considering applying for doctoral programs in the U.S.

No matter where he ends up, he's sure it will be in front of black and white keys.

"You're always learning when playing the piano," he said. "It's not that you hit a certain point in your technical mastery....It is always evolving. The way you look at music, the way you hear music, is changing. And you keep pushing yourself to keep getting better."

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