Like Mozart, Irish pianist Finghin Collins started playing the piano at the age of 3. And, like Mozart, he has an older sister who also plays.
Unlike Mozart, Collins did not have musical parents. They grew up in rural Ireland, met at the university in Cork and became scientists — his father, an agricultural scientist, and his mother, a chemist.
Nor were there musicians in the family, making the sudden emergence of musical talent surprising.
However, Collins’ eldest sister, 10 years his senior, started piano lessons at age 7 and loved it. She passed along her enthusiasm to her siblings including Collins, the youngest of four children.
“We all took to it like fish to water,” said Collins.
“It just seems to have sprung from nowhere,” he said. “They love what we do, but they never had a lesson, never played a note.”
Now in his 30s, Collins travels the world playing the works of Mozart and other classical composers as part of a solo career that also includes directing two music festivals in Ireland.
Collins will be performing pieces by Mozart, Debussy, Brahms and Schubert on Saturday at the Westmoreland Congregational UCC Church in Bethesda.
He will also be holding a masterclass open to the public on Sunday for three students with the Washington Conservatory of Music in Glen Echo Park.
The events are free but donations are welcome, said Kathy Judd, executive and artistic director of the conservatory.
In 1999 as a teenager, Collins won first prize at the Clara Haskil International Piano Competition in Switzerland. He also studied with Irish pianist John O’Conor at the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin.
O’Conor presently teaches at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va. Judd is one of his friends, which is how she came to invite Collins to perform for the Washington Conservatory.
Collins also studied at the Geneva Conservatory and served a three-year residency as the first-ever associate artist of the RTE National Symphony Orchestra in Dublin.
During the residency with the orchestra, he performed all of Mozart’s 23 concertos live over the radio. In May, four of them were released on a double CD.
For the past decade, Collins has been branching out in some new directions, doing more conducting and also serving as director of two music festivals in Ireland, the New Ross Festival and Music for Galway.
“I enjoy creating the season and choosing the artists,” he said.
For the concert in Bethesda, Collins will be performing Mozart‘s “Sonata in D major K. 284” and Debussy’s “Estampes” with its three movements — “Pagodas,” “The Evening in Granada” and “Gardens in the Rain.”
“It’s a little collection of three evocative pieces, very atmospheric,” said Collins.
For the second half of the program, he will perform Brahms’ “Rhapsodies Op. 79,” which Brahms composed toward the end of his life, and Schubert‘s “Drei Klavierstücke D. 946.”
“They’re two of the great composers for the piano,” said Collins. “[These pieces] go very well together.”
Collins said he is also looking forward to the masterclass on Sunday in Glen Echo.
“It’s nice to be meeting people and to maybe give them something different to think about,” said Collins. “I remember from my own youth, it was nice to play for someone different.”