SNOWMASS VILLAGE --The way Paul Dankers heard it, Jan Lisiecki started playing piano because his parents decided he needed to diversify after he started advancing into high-school level math during early elementary school.
"In short order, he was playing repertoire that was just way beyond his age level," said Dankers, the music director at Snowmass Chapel.
Dankers has had a personal relationship with the Lisieckis since Jan first performed in Snowmass after winning the Virginia Waring International Piano Competition for juniors in 2007. Since then, Lisiecki has returned to Snowmass to perform every year but one. He is back this week for a ski vacation and will perform all of Chopin's etudes at the chapel on President's Day.
Dankers says Lisiecki signed up for the competition because "for whatever reason he wanted to perform at Snowmass Chapel." Dankers said many young performers are very technical in their playing, but that was not what Dankers found at Lisiecki's first Snowmass appearance.
"(Young performers) often play the piano like it's a typing exercise," he said. "It's completely devoid of emotion. But that wasn't the case with him. He played with such depth."
Lisiecki, now 17, signed a recording agreement with Deutsche Grammophon two years ago. Lisiecki has performed Chopin to a much larger audience before. Born in Canada to Polish parents, he was invited to open the year of festivals commemorating the composer's bicentenary in Poland in 2010.
The etudes that Lisiecki will perform this weekend are not easy, Dankers said.
"These things are tough," he said. "To play all of them in one concert is also astonishing."
Although the teenager has been a serious musician for some time now, he and his family are very down to earth, according to Dankers.
"They try to give him a normal life," he said. "They try not to let him take himself too seriously."
That translates into the way Lisiecki wants people to approach his music. He doesn't want to be known for his age, Dankers said.
"He wants to be known for the quality of his music," Dankers said. "He wants people to come hear the concert because he really believes in the music."
Thanks to donations from Larry and Margaret Marsland, the Aspen Skiing Co, the Westin Snowmass and the chapel, the concert will be offered for free.
"He is the pianist on the circuit right now," Dankers said. "We want to see a big crowd there to hear him play. He normally plays for thousands of people."