A 12-year-old piano prodigy took Watters Theater stage Thursday night in an event honoring the memories of Pauline and Philip Piaker.
The concert, organized by Rabbi Levi Slonim, was the 18th annual memorial celebrating the lives of the philanthropic Piakers. Ethan Bortnick performed a variety of songs, from popular hits to classical pieces. Between songs, Bortnick would stand and address the audience, introducing his songs and insight into his development as a performer.
Bortnick has headlined concerts since he was 3 years old. He is also known for his philanthropy — his concerts have helped raise over $30,000,000 for different charities.
“He was really humble,” said Ben Berger, a sophomore majoring in computer science.
Bortnick played several pieces dedicated to the Piakers, whose love of the arts inspired their children to have Bortnick perform at the memorial.
“Music held a special place in my mother’s heart,” Matthew Piaker said.
Event organizer Rivkah Slonim said Bortnick was chosen because of his unique skill.
“The Piakers were extraordinary people. We [wanted to] find someone with extraordinary talent,” said event organizer Rivkah Slonim.
Pieces played by Bortnick included “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles and “Your Song” by Elton John.
The audience was given the opportunity to play a game with the young musician designed to highlight his finely tuned ear.
Bortnick called a young woman up and asked her to play for him a ringtone from her cell phone. Taking that brief melody as a template, he improvised over the progression with variations that frequently returned to the theme. He named this piece “Gari’s Song,” after the volunteer.
Bortnick also performed several of his own compositions. His song “Anything is Possible” was inspired by his brother’s recovery from heart surgery. Bortnick played along with a backtrack featuring prerecorded singers echoing the refrain.
Other original songs included “We’re All Family,” accompanied by a slideshow of various photos of Bortnick posing with celebrities, and “Blow a Kiss to the Moon,” dedicated to families whose loved ones are serving in the military over seas.
“My parents attended as many plays, concerts, musicals, as they could,” said Alan Piaker, son of the memorialized couple. “I recall attending performances here at Binghamton University as well as Broadway.”
Philip Piaker was a distinguished service professor of accounting at Binghamton University. He was described by his family as a devoted father and husband.
“He cared deeply about his wife and children – first and foremost – about his career, his work at this University and specifically the accounts department,” Rivkah Slonim said.