Megan-Geoffrey Prins is a pianist whose prodigious talent was evident early on – he had performed with all South Africa’s major orchestras by the age of 14. Today, he traverses the world as a solo performer and chamber musician, often returning home for concerts, teaching engagements and community outreach initiatives. He is this year’s Standard Bank Young Artist for Music.

An exceptionally gifted pianist, you are currently completing your doctoral studies at the Cleveland Institute of Music in the US, after which you plan to return to South Africa. The country often loses its talented musicians to what is perceived as the greener pastures of Europe and elsewhere. Why are your choosing to return to your home country?
There are so many great things about living in South Africa. It’s beautiful, the weather is fantastic, and it is so diverse. I definitely want to keep traveling and performing in different parts of the world, but South Africa is my home. I’m excited about the possibilities for music in South Africa. We already have a thriving classical music community, which is constantly growing and diversifying. I think that studying abroad has equipped me to help contribute to that growth, even if it is only in small ways.

You were born in the small town of Riversdale in the Western Cape. What kind of music did you listen to growing up, and who were your early influences? What led you to the piano?
There was a lot of music in my house. The radio was always on and my dad loves humming tunes while he works. I grew up singing in church at least once a week, so I think in many ways music was just part of every day in our family. My mother inherited a piano, which was in our main room and, when I was very young, I started showing an interest in the instrument. My mother had some beginner piano books and started teaching me how to read. By the time I was 8 years’ old, my family decided to find me a professional piano teacher.

You have performed all over the world and have won many competitions — including the Honens International Piano Competition, the Hong Kong International Piano Competition, the Unisa National and International Piano competitions, and the Midwest International Piano Competition. What do you regard as the brightest feather in your cap? What does winning the Standard Bank Young Artist Award mean to you?
I’ve competed internationally and won local competitions and all of those have been very important career moments for me. They have funded large portions of my studies and have taught me so much about myself as a musician. The Standard Bank Young Artist Award certainly feels like a particularly special acknowledgement. I was overwhelmed when I received the news. The list of artists who have won the award is incredible and it’s amazing to think that I am now part of that list. The timing is also special because this has happened as I move back to South Africa. It is validating and very motivating and I am very grateful to Standard Bank and the National Arts Festival.

Classical music faces many challenges in South Africa, not least of which are dwindling audiences and a lack of funding which have led to the closing of orchestras and institutions, such as the Gauteng Opera and the Johannesburg Philharmonic. What should be done to save the classical art form in South Africa?
It saddens me to hear of important institutions closing down. The circles that I move in are full of young people who are very passionate about classical music. I think there are misconceptions that classical music is not relevant to young people or to the new South Africa. This simply isn’t true. I think there are a few institutions that are working hard at showing this and making music more accessible. I really hope that our arts will receive more funding and public interest in coming years. I think that there is also an increase in collaborations across artistic and musical disciplines, which might help us to understand how different sectors of the arts cope with the current economy and hopefully learn from each other.

You have a very busy Festival ahead as the Standard Bank Young Artist, playing with the Eastern Cape Philharmonic in the Symphony Concert and collaborating with violinist David Bester. In your solo performance, Metamorphosis: Reflections at the Piano, you set out to explore the ‘changing landscapes of Western classical music’. What will you be playing and what do wish the audiences to experience on this journey with you?
I’ll be playing a commissioned work by Stellenbosch-based composer Arthur Feder, Bussoni’s transcription of JS Bach’s Chaconne in D minor (originally written for violin), Rachmaninov’s Corelli Variations, Carl Vine’s piano sonata, some Debussy Preludes, and Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No 1. I want the audience to experience the familiar (such as Debussy and Liszt) and the new (such as Carl Vine), and I am particularly excited about premiering Arthur Feder’s work. Often people think of Western art music as being monolithic when, really, there are so many different aspects to it and it has kept evolving for centuries. I think Feder’s work is a testament to the ways in which Western art music can keep transforming and growing.

What’s next for Megan-Geoffrey Prins?
I am teaching in the Cape Town area and I am excited to perform throughout South Africa for the rest of this year. I have a few other projects in the pipeline, but it’s too early to share them – hopefully soon!