Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Like Maestro, Like Son: Zev Malina is already an accomplished pianist and composer—and he’s just 15 years old.

Zev Mailina

 I’ve had a long-lasting musical love affair with Schubert’s “Trout Quintet” for piano and strings.

So, I snatched up tickets when I saw this piece on the program for a concert last winter at Whitaker Center. But what I remember most from that evening was the opening act—a spirited, nearly flawless solo piano performance of Chopin’s technically demanding Scherzo No. 2 by high school freshman Zev Malina.

“Wow, this kid’s got talent!” I thought to myself.

And I wasn’t alone. The audience gave the young man a standing ovation—quite an accomplishment for a musician making his professional debut and who felt nervous walking onto the stage.

 If the surname Malina rings a bell, it should. Zev is the son of Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra Music Director Stuart Malina. Stuart recognized Zev’s talent at an early age, when he realized his son had “perfect pitch”—a rare ability to identify a single note without any reference tones.

“He was always a very good music student,” said Stuart. “He learned things really fast. His ear and memory are remarkable. After playing through a piece of music once, he would know it by memory.”

 Zev started playing the piano around the age of 4. He enjoys the feeling of touching the keys, and he relishes the piano’s sound and its wide range of capabilities for melody, harmony and expression. He is fond of many composers, but said that, “anything Chopin wrote is great to listen to and to play.”

 Zev balances life as a Central Dauphin High School student with his musical exploits. He tries to practice piano 30 to 45 minutes a day, but certain times of year are busier than others. He’s currently learning works by Bach, Beethoven and Copland, along with Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto, which Zev describes as “a monstrous piece.” 

When approaching a new piece, Zev starts off by following the composer’s intentions as closely as possible. But, as he gets to know the work better, he starts adding his own unique flair.

“I stick to the composer’s directions until I feel I have the right to elaborate,” he said. 

More Gifted

Zev has been studying the piano for about five years under the tutelage of Ya-Ting Chang, who co-directs Market Square Concerts with her husband, violinist Peter Sirotin.

“Right from the first time I heard him play, I remember telling myself that this is one of those rare, talented kids who I don’t want to micromanage,” said Chang.

 Zev sings in his high school choir, but he particularly enjoys playing bassoon in the band. He remembers hearing the bassoon solo that opens Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring,” which sparked his interest in the woodwind instrument.

“The world needs more bassoon players,” Zev said. It’s kind of a dying art, which is a shame.”

And if being a precocious instrumentalist were not enough, Zev may be more gifted as a composer.

“Zev’s mind works much more creatively than mine does,” said Stuart, who studied composition in college. “You’d be hard-pressed to find many 15 year olds who are writing music of this sophistication.”

 Zev recently submitted a five-minute orchestral piece titled Dreamscape to the National Young Composers Challenge. More than 100 composers aged 13 to 18 from all over the country submitted entries, and Zev was one of the three winners in the Full Orchestral category. The other two were three years older than he is.

 What Comes Next

Zev started composing around age 9 by writing a waltz for solo piano, a piece his father describes as “very advanced” for a child who had no formal training in composition. He since has expanded his repertoire, and professional musicians have performed several of his compositions publicly. 

His best-known work is a 20-minute musical accompaniment to a narration of Robert McCloskey’s 1948 illustrated children’s book Blueberries for Sal. The book’s pictures and story inspired Zev as he was growing up, and he wrote the piece when he was 13. Violin, piano, clarinet, bass and drums accompany the narration. The piece was performed publicly at the Forum in 2015, with Zev as narrator and his father on piano.

Zev intends to write pieces for the bassoon, the double bass and other underserved instruments. For example, at age 11, he composed a quartet for double basses, which was performed by the Shenandoah Conservatory Bass Ensemble.

Besides music, Zev enjoys reading, writing and acting. He still has not chosen a career path, but most of his interests involve the arts.

“Nowadays, it’s hard to find a stable career in the arts, which is unfortunate since those fields are such an important part of culture and society, he said.

It would be natural to assume that Zev’s father is pushing him toward a musical career. But Stuart has refrained from steering his son in any particular direction, and emphasized that Zev’s interest in music is entirely self-motivated.

“I think he’s going to do great things no matter what he ends up doing,” said Stuart. “I know that music will be some part of his life. But I’m incredibly proud of what he has accomplished already at this young age, and I just can’t wait to see what comes next.”

For samples of Zev Malina’s works mentioned in this story, visit and For more on classical music in the Harrisburg area, visit and

Author: Robert Naeye

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