Awadagin Pratt (/ɑːwɑːˈdɑːdʒɪn/; born March 6, 1966) is a concert pianist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
When he was three years old, Pratt moved with his parents to Normal, Illinois, where Illinois State University had offered his mother a position as a professor of social work and his Sierra Leone-born father, Theodore, one as a physics professor. Pratt began piano lessons at the age of six, taught by Leslie Sompong. He also took violin lessons at age nine, but for much of his childhood his first interest was tennis, in which he achieved ranking in the US Midwest. He eventually chose to concentrate on his musical talents, however, and at 16 he declined tennis scholarships at other schools to accept one in violin at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he enrolled as a freshman. Later, he transferred to the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, as, unlike other schools, it accepted him both as a pianist and as a violinist: " He was the first student in the history of that institution to earn certificates in piano and violin and a graduate diploma in conducting" (Shepard 1998).
Pratt's career received its impetus when in 1992 he became the first African-American pianist to win the Naumburg International Piano Competition; since then, "he has performed with nearly every major orchestra in this country the United States, at the Clinton White House, and on Sesame Street" (Cruice 2000). Winning the Naumburg prize launched Pratt into a strenuous performance schedule, with 40 to 50 concerts that year and 70 the following year, when he signed with the New York City artist management firm IMG Artists. In 1994 Pratt made his debut at Lincoln Center with the New York Philharmonic (Shepard 1998).
In fall 2004 Pratt accepted a position as Assistant Professor of Piano and Artist in Residence at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. His recital debut there came on December 1, 2005 (Gelfand 2005). Pratt continues to give up to 30 performances a year throughout the United States and abroad, and he hopes to add performances on the violin, both solo and in chamber music, to his recital calendar.
In private life, Pratt resides in Cincinnati, Ohio. He continues to play tennis, and also pursues interests in chess and fine wines.
Pratt is celebrated not only as a virtuoso but also for his unconventional appearance when performing. "Pratt takes the stage at Boston's Jordan Hall in a subtle but colorful green-and-lavender striped and checked shirt. His black pants reveal a dash of whimsicality below the cuffs: socks adorned with a portrait of Van Gogh" (Shepard 1998). Pratt has explained that, aside from improving his own level of comfort, his sartorial choices are calculated to break down barriers between the audience, the performer, and the music, a result in keeping with his hope that he can build enthusiasm for classical music among youth and audiences not traditionally interested in the art form.
Although fully equipped to meet the technical demands of showpieces by composers like Franz Liszt, Pratt has gravitated more to literature that, while technically demanding, has less surface glitter and more introspection. Among other composers whose works he has espoused are Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, César Franck, Edvard Grieg, Modest Mussorgsky, and Sergei Rachmaninoff.
Pratt has released several recordings on compact disc:
A Long Way From Normal (EMI, 1994), Pratt's debut album, including music of Liszt, Franck, Brahms, and Bach. The title is a reference to his boyhood home of Normal, Illinois.,
Beethoven Piano Sonatas (EMI, 1995), including sonatas 7, 9, 30, and 31.,
Live From South Africa (EMI, 1997), which was recorded in Cape Town (Shepard 1998), including works of Bach, Brahms, Franck, and Rachmaninoff.,
Transformations (EMI 72435 56836, November 16, 1999), including Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition; Pratt's own transcription of Bach's Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582; and Brahms's Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, all played on a Bösendorfer Imperial Grand.,
Play Bach (Angel 2002), including Bach's Brandenburg Concerto no. 5 in D Major, BWV 1050; Keyboard Concerti nos. 4 in A Major, BWV 1055, and 5 in F Minor, BWV 1056; and shorter works, all with a chamber ensemble performing one to a part.