Not every 17-year-old can say they performed a classical piano ballad where musical legends like the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Frank Sinatra took the stage. But Joseph Kesting can.
The Hamilton resident is preparing for his second performance at NYC’s famed Carnegie Hall after his second year advancing in the Crescendo International Music Competition, a worldwide competition for instrumentalists ages 5-22.
This year, Kesting is one out of over 5,000 instrumentalists that participated in auditions, which is the competition’s first round. Around 15% of those 5,000 have been selected to advance to the Winner’s Circle, the competition’s second and final round held at Carnegie Hall. Musicians are judged and scored based on style, technique and artistic maturity.
Kesting, who is a junior at Notre Dame High School, has been practicing his most complex piano piece yet for his performance this year which was scheduled for Jan. 25, after this edition went to press. There are varying performance dates for all those who received First Place Honors.
He has chosen to play Rondo Capriccioso in E major, Op. 14, a classical piece composed by Felix Mendelssohn for his second time at the venue. This is a piece that lasts for 6-7 minutes and has taken him six months to perfect—his longest time learning a piece.
“It’s probably one of, if not the most difficult piece I’ve played to date,” he said.
Last year, Kesting performed Fredrick Chopin’s Fantasie-Impromptu Op.66 during his first ever performance at Carnegie Hall after auditioning for the competition for the first time.
Before taking the stage at Carnegie Hall, Kesting definitely felt his nerves because he was one of the last instrumentalists to perform and had to wait a couple hours backstage. He says that was the largest audience he’s performed in front of so far, after performing at various piano recitals throughout the years at places such as Jacob’s Music, a piano store in Lawrence Township.
“Stage fright for anyone is present and it should be,” he said. “Everybody gets a little nervous. I think and it’s about how well you handle it. I handle pressure relatively well and I still get nervous.”
Kesting was shocked last year to receive his letter in the mail that told him he advanced, saying he did not expect the honor. Last year’s competition was the first time he’s ever been formally judged on his performance.
This year, however, he said he is no longer nervous.
“I’m doing my thing in the zone,” he says.
Kesting auditioned at the Westminster Choir College in Princeton last year and this year. Other auditions were held across the nation and in countries such as Canada, Korea and Russia.
The Crescendo International Music Competition has been held since 2007 and is eligible for piano, strings, and winds instrumentalists as well as vocalists, duets, and ensemble participants.
Following Kesting’s Carnegie Hall performance last year, he placed first in a separate competition called Music Fest which lead him to play at the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies Teatro at Columbia University. There, he played the piece entitled Prelude in C-Sharp Minor by Sergei Rachmaninoff.
“All classical composers serve as an inspiration for me,” he says.
Kesting credits his musical ear to his mother, Rose Kesting, who he says played classical music near her stomach when she was pregnant with him. He says his mother encouraged him to play the piano, and that she herself is a former musician herself that played classical guitar.
Kesting mentions his music teachers as being guiding forces on his musical journey. His first teacher was Dawn Golding, who he says helped establish and grow his instrumental skills.
He has been working with his current teacher, Rose McCathran for two years. He says she is the one that helped him get into competitive playing.
“She has helped me really develop as an advanced musician,” he says.
When Kesting was younger, he also attended the Princeton School of Rock.
“There, I got some experience in the genre of classic rock as well as stage experience,” he says. “I don’t just play classical music, those are more for performances.”
At the Princeton School of Rock, he was introduced to playing artists such as Stevie Wonder and Led Zeppelin and performed at local pubs in Philadelphia.
When Kesting is not practicing for a performance, he enjoys looking up music to play on YouTube, and says he’s good at learning by ear.
He has conquered the entirety of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and owns a Queen music book. He also enjoys playing Americana and even some pop tunes.
Daily, he strives to play the piano for a half hour to an hour.
“It’s hard to fit in all the time, especially with school work and with the piece I’ve been playing,” he says of the ballad for his upcoming performance.
“You need a lot of patience. When you start to see yourself progress you’ll enjoy it more I guarantee it. That’s what happened with me.”
Kesting shares his musical talents with his high school and is a part of Notre Dame’s concert band. He plays on a keyboard for their winter and spring concerts. His freshman year, he was in the chamber orchestra.
He also has to balance school and his musical talent with playing on Notre Dame’s boys’ lacrosse team. His off season training requires lifting two to three times a week after school in the weight room.
“It can be hard to come home, practice piano and do homework,” he says.
Despite how busy Kesting gets, he said he will never stop sharing his musical gift.
For the past couple years, he has been playing twice annually at Care One assisted living for the residents there. He gathers a playlist of songs, usually with lyrics so they can sing along, in the summer and around Christmas time.
He says he definitely sees piano in his future, and hopes to minor in music when it is time for him to attend college.
“No matter what I’m going to still keep using it for my personal enjoyment and the enjoyment of others,” he says. “Eventually maybe even some paid gigs at piano bars or coffee shops.”
Kesting has some advice for people who are just starting an instrument and may be frustrated:
“In the beginning it’s going to be difficult, with any instrument. Starting out always going to be difficult but like me if you stick with it, with time comes progression. You need a lot of discipline and patience and when you start to see yourself progress you’ll enjoy it more I guarantee it. That’s what happened with me.”