UT pianist wins concerto competition to perform with symphony

Corinne Piorokowski, General Life&Arts Reporter

When graduate student Michael Lenahan sits at his piano bench on stage, his fingers know what keys to play. 

Despite the thousands of notes in his 30-minute concerto piece, his hands glide through each melodic note, keeping him at peace in front of his audience, be it a crowd of people or a panel of judges. 

“I love performing,” Lenahan said. “I love once you’ve done all that work, and you go on stage and you’re comfortable. Everyone gets a degree in piano for different reasons, but … my goal is (for) my career (to) … have performance as the foundation.”

Lenahan won the concerto competition for UT pianists last October against eight other competitors, landing him the opportunity to perform with the UT Symphony Orchestra on April 24.

Spending around 750 hours practicing his concerto piece throughout his career, Lenahan said a lot of hard work went into preparing for this performance.

“Having the experience of playing concertos with (an) orchestra is so important, but at the same time, it’s really hard to get that experience (outside of a competition setting),” Lenahan said. “It’s 80+ people all playing your piece with you, so it’s really important for pianists’ careers.”

After completing his undergraduate degree at Juilliard and his masters’ at Rice, Lenahan joined UT’s Artists Diploma program, a postgraduate performing program, as its first pianist.

The pandemic peaked after Lenahan graduated from Rice in May 2020, causing his career plans to fall through. Lenahan missed the concerto competition finals of that year. 

“Coming out of the pandemic, I wanted to dive back in and get my career going again,” Lenahan said. “I was like, ‘This year, I am determined.’”

Piano professor Anton Nel works with Lenahan through his degree program and also played his piece beside him during the concerto competition in October. Nel said Lenahan impressed both him and the judges. 

“He is a superb pianist and really deserves everything that comes his way,” Nel said. “It comes with a lot of hard work. What he’s doing to a teacher like me is really ideal: to have a gift, but to also work hard.”

Caroline Cubillos, a music and economics sophomore, works with Lenahan in music class and said seeing his practice transfer to performance makes her feel extremely proud of his continuous efforts.

“There’s definitely a lot of possibilities for him,” Cubillos said. “He’s just so talented and a good pianist and musician, so whatever he’ll be doing, I’m sure it’s going to be amazing.”

Gaining success in competitions and skills in piano, Nel said Lenahan maintains control of the next steps in his musical career.

“I would like (him) to have an interesting life in music,” Nel said. “He is all set up to have a very nice life in it.”

Lenahan said artists should never give up on their passions. Chasing his next performance, Lenahan said he hopes to bring classical music to younger audiences. 

“If you know how to listen (to classical music), and you open your mind and heart to that, it’s for everyone,” Lenahan said.