La Jolla High pianist takes top honors, will perform with San Diego Symphony

By Pat Sherman

La Jolla High School sophomore and pianist Hazel Friedman took first place in the San Diego Symphony’s 2014 “Hot Shots” Young Artist Concerto Competition in March.

As part of the honor, Hazel will perform the fifth piano concerto by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns with the San Diego Symphony at the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Music Center (formerly Copley Symphony Hall) during the symphony’s 2014-2015 season.

Hazel said she performed the same piece for last year’s competition, though was not used to being onstage in such a vast space.

“It was terrifying,” she recalled, “but my teacher (Dana Burnett) said that it’s good to be able to put yourself in a place that’s extremely different than anything I’m used to and just get that experience a couple of times, no matter what happens.”

Hazel had no problem wowing the judges this year. “When they called my name I couldn’t believe it. I actually looked at my mom and I said, ‘What does that mean?’ I had no clue. I was just so surprised (and) extremely excited,” she recalled.

“I’ve always wanted to play with an orchestra and I love this piece — I feel like it’s my piece. So, getting to play a piece that I love and I want to practice over and over to make it perfect — that’s amazing for me.”

Hazel said she mainly hones her craft playing classical music for competitions, but also enjoys sitting down to try her hand at popular Broadway musicals such as “Wicked” and “Book of Mormon.”

“I like sight reading through those pieces because they’re fun, but classical is my main passion, and what I want to be playing for college and what I want to try and make a life with,” said Hazel, 16, who is considering applying to Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio or the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University, just north of Chicago. Though early, she said a career serving others, such as nursing or teaching, might interest her as a minor.

Her mother, Amanda Friedman, said Hazel began playing at age 8, which is considered late for a pianist to begin.

However, coming from a musical family, which includes a grandmother and great aunts and uncles trained as classical musicians, and a father (Greg Friedman) who plays guitar in San Diego indie bands the Truckee Brothers and the Montalban Quintet, Amanda Friedman said her daughter was eager to join the family fray.

“She begged to start and she just kind of took off right away,” her mother said. “She’s just been learning steadily and quickly ever since then. She’s very consistent at practicing, and she does that independently on her own. I think classical music is all about the time that you put in preparing for it. You can’t just do it all at once or cram. It has to be a consistent growth.”