Young La Jolla pianist heading to Carnegie Hall

By Ashley Mackin

La Jolla Country Day fourth-grader, Ursula Hardianto, 9, loves to perform. She plays the classics on piano so beautifully that in March and April she will get to do so at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

Occasionally unable to contain her giggling, Ursula said of the shows, “I’m really excited to actually walk on the stage.”

Ursula entered two national contests for young musicians — the American Protégé International Piano Competition and the American Association for Development of the Gifted and Talented International Piano Competition — and scored high enough in each to earn a spot in the Carnegie lineup. The top scorers in these competitions are heading to New York City.

Ursula and her family will have their travel expenses covered through a gift from Masterbuilders SF, a San Francisco-based development company that sponsors young artists across California. After hearing Ursula play, the company agreed to cover the plane tickets and hotel accommodations.

“I was quite shocked ... but really happy and excited,” she said, again holding back laughter. Her sister, Priscilla, 13, (who plays violin) is supportive. “When I heard, I couldn’t believe it,” Priscilla said. “I was like ‘my sister is going to perform on the famous stage of America!’ So I was really excited for her.”

Mother, Agatha Iskandar, also said she is thrilled for her younger daughter. “It was something I had dreamed about but never really thought in my wildest dreams that I’m actually going to see my own daughter on the stage of Carnegie Hall.”

Lucky for Ursula, the piece she will perform is her favorite piece to play: Berkovich’s Variations on the theme of Paganini. She said the piece was originally written for the violin, but was rewritten for the piano.

Iskandar said she grew up playing music and wanted the same for her children. “I wanted to make sure they enjoyed the same gift I enjoyed all my life,” she said. “So I put them through music school and we found a really good teacher that Ursula had good chemistry with and who is able to develop her (skills).”

That teacher is Ariel Yang with The Opus 119 School of Music. Based in Irvine, Iskandar and Ursula drive to the Opus School every weekend.

Director Ethan Dong called Ursula a very honest and humble student. “She follows direction and knows if she works hard, she’ll get results in her performances,” he said, adding Ursula does work hard, which in his experience, is not easy for young kids to do.

Despite the undeniable talent, Iskandar said she wouldn’t force her children into a musical career. “I just want them to pursue whatever is going to make them feel fulfilled,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s still their life but I do hope they’ll always have music as an add-on.”

As this part of her life takes Ursula to New York City, there is one other thing she said she wants to do while she’s there: visit the famed toy store FAO Schwarz.