As the lights dimmed in Watters Theater and the last few stragglers found their seats, audience members prepared to be wowed by a true child prodigy. The show began with a slideshow, featuring photos of The Jonas Brothers, Katy Perry, Oprah Winfrey and Billy Joel all posing with one young man, famed musician Ethan Bortnick, aged 13.
Regardless of the generational difference between Bortnick and the audience, mostly composed of local Binghamton adults, this was not a stiff piano recital. Bortnick showcased his many talents with an entertaining, lively performance.
Accompanied by a four-piece band, a 50-piece orchestra and, toward the end, a 120-member high school choir, the sound was full and vibrant. In classics like “What a Wonderful World,” “Mambo Italiano” and “New York State of Mind,” Bortnick reached beautiful high notes. Sitting in the audience, one felt his genuine desire for everyone to have a good time.
Bortnick thanked WSKG and WVIA radio for coming to support and help fund the concert. WSKG also aired his special, “Anything is Possible,” in 2013. Much of the performance was Bortnick using music to inspire others. “Music has the power to change people’s lives,” he said. Bortnick has already raised over 30 million dollars for charities. Shirts, hats, CDs and DVDs were sold in the lobby; the proceeds went to children’s music education in San Diego.
Bortnick’s talent could not be denied or fought, despite some initial roadblocks. “When I asked my parents for lessons they [originally] said no,” said Bortnick. When they saw his potential and natural gift, they soon got him a teacher.
Taking a personal turn, Bortnick moved us with the chilling story of his 8-year-old brother’s three heart surgeries at birth and the song he wrote as a result for “all those in life having a hard time.” One can lose sight of how young Bortnick is due to his high aptitude and the way he captures the audience.
An interview which Bortnick introduced as one with a “friend” displayed a young Bortnick with Celine Dion. She too noted her amazement at the way he carries himself, having been even younger in the video. Dion and Bortnick led us into an uplifting song about having faith with the idea that “obstacles are an opportunity for growth.” A beautiful moment ensued when his brother waved from the sound booth. The audience sang to his mother (also there) for her birthday, emphasizing how much of a family show and production this really was. “Binghamton is a great place to celebrate your birthday,” said Bortnick, always a crowd-pleaser.
Girls swooned when the guest star on tour entered the stage. Damian McGinty, 22, was a member of Irish musical group “Celtic Thunder” from as young as 14 and toured from ages 15-18. Following this, he was on the reality show “The Glee Project” and went on to win and play Rory Flanagan on the third season of “Glee.” (Recognizing him from the reality show, I was impressed myself.)
McGinty shared that, on the road, you “learn a lot and see even more.” He said he’s been on the road so long, which is “why I look 18 and feel 40.”
The brotherly relationship between the two brought a lot of laughs. Following intermission, there was a question-and-answer session in which Bortnick credited McGinty with the wisdom “that you should not shave at a very young age. He’s going to kill me for saying that … he grows a beard every 24 hours.”
The show was full of audience participation, including splitting up the crowd for singing parts in Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock.”
Bortnick also showcased his ear and gift of composition with a unique activity. After asking for audience volunteers, he created an intricate piece that clearly stemmed from a volunteer’s ringtone.
The ringtone composition was evocative of the idea that Bortnick truly sees music in everything, from birds to “[his] dad making popcorn.” It’s these things that make him not just a young musician, but a virtuoso.