Mainly Mozart features musical savant over ‘Genius Weekend’ in San Diego: Sensory-friendly concert June 9 for youth on the autism spectrum and their families


Now in its 30th year of bringing beautiful music to San Diego, Mainly Mozart is opening its June 2018 festival season with a three-day “Genius Weekend,” celebrating the spirit of Mozart with gifted musicians who happen to be on the autism spectrum, as Mozart himself may have been.

Chief among these is pianist Derek Paravicini, who will be featured in a concert June 10 at the Balboa Theatre, with conductor Michael Francis and the Mainly Mozart Festival Orchestra, and members of the Mainly Mozart Youth Orchestra.

Born blind and severely autistic to an upper-class family in London, Paravicini can’t tell his right hand from his left, but how he can play! Once he hears a piece of music, he can play it, and start improvising on it, just as Mozart did.

Hailed as a “musical savant,” Paravicini was given a keyboard at age two and began banging out tunes on his own. At age four, at a School for the Blind, he literally ran into Adam Ockelford, a music teacher who recognized his genius and has been his mentor ever since.

He gave his first major public concert at age 9, and clearly loved performing. Now, at 38, he has thousands of classical, jazz and pop music pieces in his repertoire, gives many benefit concerts in the U.K., and has performed in concert halls in Europe and the U.S. This will be his first appearance in San Diego.

The June 10 program will include the world premiere of a piece written for Paravicini by British composer Matthew King, along with symphonic works by Mozart, Rachmaninoff and Vaughan Williams. The second half of the program will be a solo performance, in which Paravicini will probably do one of the things he’s best known for: taking requests from the audience and playing each one in whatever style an audience member requests.

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Although this is the highlight of the June 8-10 Genius Weekend, there’s a whole line-up of “Music & the Mind” presentations and concerts. One of the interesting events, also at the Balboa Theatre, is a sensory-friendly concert June 9, at 2:30 p.m., that’s especially designed for young people on the autism spectrum and their families.

Featuring musicians on the spectrum and Julia, an autistic Muppet now appearing on Sesame Street, the program will be hosted by Julie Guy, director of the Music Therapy Center of California, who will also lead the audience in relaxing exercises.

(Note: For a pre-concert introduction to Derek Paravicini, see Lesley Stahl’s “60 minutes” profile of him on YouTube.)

IF YOU GO: Derek Paravicini with Michael Francis and the Mainly Mozart Festival Orchestra, 7:30 pm., Sunday, June 10 at Balboa Theatre, 868 Fourth Ave, downtown. Tickets: $15-$88. (619) 239-0100. For the full Genius Weekend schedule, visit