Introducing Vivian Williams, Pianist and Polymath

New Albany Symphony Orchestra Maestro Luis Biava, Ariel Horowitz, Vivian Williams and Executive Director Heather Garner(Photo:
New Albany Symphony Orchestra Maestro Luis Biava, Ariel Horowitz, Vivian Williams and Executive Director Heather Garner(Photo:

Pianist Vivian Williams‘ fifth birthday was a day that changed her life. Not only did she reach the vaunted half-decade milestone that day, she also had her first piano lesson.

“I had asked for lessons, but our local teacher didn’t give anyone lessons beneath (age) five,” Williams said.

Eight years and a half-dozen music competition wins later, Williams, 13, is heading toward another milestone as she prepares for her concerto debut April 18 as first place winner of the New Albany Symphony Orchestra Student Concerto Competition.

And though she intends to pursue a musical career when she graduates next year from Newark High School, Williams is no one-trick pony. Her many academic interests are continually jockeying for second place in Williams’ world – and in her future plans.

Even before her fateful first piano lesson, something about the piano that captivated Williams.

“I liked the way it sounded when I pressed the keys, and I liked the way the sound came out when you pressed the keys in a melody,” Williams said. ”It was kind of fascinating.”

That fascination carried Williams through her early studies with Newark pianist Mike Williams (no relation), who she says gave her a solid technical foundation in piano playing. And it turned into an all-out love for playing music.

“(Music) was very intricate and it could also be very simple and touching, just depending on what kind of piece you were playing. I love the complexity of some of the melodies and the chords, and the way you could have multiple melodies all at the same time. I just loved the more intricate aspects of it,” Williams said.

Two years later, with Granville, Ohio, piano teacher Meredith Needham, Vivian Williams refined her finger technique and developed her technique with the piano’s pedals. For the last six years Williams has studied with notes Columbus piano pedagogue Nina Polonsky, who, she says, has opened new musical vistas for her.

“She’s taught me how to make sound come out not harshly but nicely and how to shape the lines even if you can’t connect the notes and lots of things that I never really thought would be possible before on the piano,” Williams said. ”It’s really quite enlightening to have a lesson with her.”

As enlightening, perhaps, as playing at Carnegie Hall, which Williams did in 2007 as silver medalist in Cincinnati’s World Piano Competition. Williams says the experience of playing on a large recital with other exceptionally gifted musicians opened her ears and raised her expectations of her playing.

“It was definitely a great experience for me, and I got to see the other medalists perform, so it kind of brought me up to date on what I should aspire to. And it was a great experience being in a place like that because it’s such a hallowed place,” Williams said.

But even the most dedicated musician has to have some down time. Williams says she’s most likely to spend hers reading anything from science fiction story anthologies to history books. The self-described history buff recently finished reading Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire because her brother, Linus Williams, 16, recommended the book to her. Now she’s hooked on ancient Rome.

“It’s interesting to see how a society like that functions,” Williams said.

But when music and reading get too heady, Williams is most likely to go for a run or help her mother in the garden. She says she has a little bit of a green thumb and doesn’t mind getting dirt on it or her nine other pianist’s digits.

“You can always wash it off,” Williams said.”

With several successes in solo competitions and the excitement of rehearsing Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto with the New Albany Symphony Orchestra for her concerto debut this Sunday, Williams says she aspires to a career as a concert pianist.

“I love giving solo recitals, and being alone up on the stage with the audience and your music is a great feeling,” Williams said. ”It’s kind of exhilarating and anxious and strange and really exciting all at once.”

But Williams says she knows establishing a concert career is a tough row to hoe. So as she practices for the college auditions she’ll start taking in the fall, Williams says she will keep her academic options open. She might major in music and history, or music and literature. But then again, she finds chemistry fascinating.

“It’s probably something that I’m going to look into more in college,” Williams said.