Cadmiel – Romania’s Prodigy on the Piano
When asked to write a short essay about someone, anyone, who they considered to be a role model, many middle school children picked him - the high school student they used to catch a glimpse of during recess and, occasionally, during school concerts. The teachers knew, of course, they were dealing with the most talented Romanian pianist of the last decade, but remained in disbelief. For it was not only his talent that impressed the children, but his modesty, yes, his modesty above all.
The first captivating thing about this gracile, blond-haired young man is his name. Cadmiel. Now a freshman at the Music Academy he speaks slowly, in long, coherent phrases with a kind of sacerdotal humility. He does not gesture and he does not raise his voice. "We musicians find it very hard to speak. Because we are not ones to speak, we are ones to be practically silent. We play and mostly just listen".
"Competition, self-assertion do exist. But it's a question of how you look at it. You are only harming yourself if you become aloof, detached from others, and if you are competing with a sense of enmity." Photo: Raul Stef
Last year in Astana, at the most important international competition he has won so far, he not only came out ahead of all the Russians - despite the fact that Russia has the best piano schools in the world - but the jury greeted him with applause and requested an encore. Twice.
Interviewing Cadmiel Botac is like a romantic concert in three parts: it begins intensely, it quiets to a cantilena about childhood and it ends by etching an unforgettable melody in your memory.
"As you make your bed..."
Sighetu Marmației, 2001. Cadmiel is 4 years old. Any object he touches chimes and resonates. He whistles, sings, and drums with spoons. A few times a week a patient instructor would teach him notes, count his half tones along the bizarre, geometrical patterns the black-and-white keys create on the keyboard and overturned on the laquered piano lid.
15 minutes a day. That is the attention span of a small child, no matter how gifted. Little by little, his hands take on a feverish, sinewy look and begin to play around with the sounds, with the touch as he grasped each note with a fingertip. The short legs barely reach the pedals, and a transparent bubble filled with music begins to form around the instrument.
The boy's father, Ioan Botac, is a tailor. He made him a suit just the right size. When he bows before the audience whose hearts melt as if they'd just seen a Golden Retriever puppy playing in the grass, Cadmiel looks like a fair-haired cricket.
His mother, Maria, is a nurse. She's left the hospital early and is sitting in the corner of the last row.
Cadmiel Botac when he first started playing the piano. Photo: personal archive.
"I loved music, but I was pushed along by my parents because a child will never choose to stay inside and practice while his friends are out playing soccer. Most of the time you don't want to practice. They were telling me maybe I could become someone important, and my life would be different then. You make your bed so you must lie in it, they would say. But it takes time for a child to reach the point where he works for himself instead of others", Cadmiel says.
His parents' intuition turned out to be right. It was not in vain they named him after an Old Testament priest who played in the Jerusalem Temple.
"The orchestra was stamping their feet"
When Cadmiel was in fifth grade both his parents and his piano teacher experienced a real shock: he won the grand prize in four different national and international competitions.
The first of them, in Croatia, had an upper age limit of 20 years; Cadmiel was only 10. He was better than all the others. "I was happy, but I didn't know exactly what it meant. Then I came back home and won a few more.".
In eighth grade he set himself apart by winning the national Competition "Dinu Lipatti" in Bucharest. His prize was a recital in Luxembourg at the invitation of the Romanian Embassy. Then he went to the U.S. on a scholarship and performed in Boston.
The third qualitative leap came during his junior year in high school: he began to win competitions in the East, making an impression on the Russian piano school. He won the most important title on his record in Astana, the capital city of Kazakhstan, in May 2014 (video here). 120 hopefuls had enrolled, but only 30 were selected.
``We drew lots and I played last. Usually, you remember the ones at the beginning, because you are still fresh and in a listening mood, and the ones at the end, because... well, he's the last one, and then it's over! I received unexpected acclaim, the audience was applauding incessantly, and so was the jury. I had an exceptional moment, when everything came out perfect, exactly the way it should have been.``
Five musicians went through to the finals: three Russians, one from Kazakhstan, and the Romanian Cadmiel Botac.
"I thought, no matter how well I play it will not make a difference. Three of the seven jurors were from Russia, plus Denis Matsuev and the directors of the Kazakhstan and Moscow Operas. I was amazed to see that I got first place,", Cadmiel recalls.
"True, I synchronized well with the orchestra and they felt that, and the audience too. I was cheered incessantly and they requested an encore, which does not normally happen in competitions. You just play the music pieces in your program and then go home. But after I played this concert, the orchestra was stamping their feet, which is their way of applauding. Then I realized I got first place. Nobody had known me there before the competition and I did not expect this to happen".
Before the contest Cadmiel had received a list with dozens of musical pieces from Cluj and mandatory parts written by Kazakh composers. He chose one at random because it seemed "more interesting".
"We didn't find any recordings of that piece, nothing. In the opening of the competition, they called an 80-year-old man on stage and literally crowned him. They placed a crown on his head and a coat over his shoulders, and I was thinking, 'Who might that be, what kind of traditions do these people have?!' Then, before I started playing, I saw the gentleman enter the room. Unbeknownst to me, I was the only one playing one of his pieces."
The old gentleman was composer Vladimir Zavgorodny.
His trip to the big East went full circle. In September 2014, he was invited to give a recital in Irkutsk, near the Baikal lake. It was cold outside and Cadmiel had crossed the vastness of Siberia to appear before the audience.
Today, Cadmiel is 18 and a freshman at the "Gheorghe Dima" Music Academy in Cluj-Napoca. He could have studied anywhere in the world, but he stayed for his teacher Daniel Goiți (pictured below).
"Working from eleventh grade with a Conservatory professor made a huge difference. I like the fact he asks me, 'How do you see this, how do you think this part should be played, where does this musical phrase lead, where is the culmination?'
He helps me think. Every time I leave his class, I am a motivated individual. He encourages me and gives me the will to push forward. He is my role model, not only as a pianist but as a human being. He is completely dedicated to music.
I used to go to class and he would tell me how tired he was, that he had been up until 4 in the morning listening to various interpretations. He keeps listening, he has thousands of compact disks, reads a lot and quotes from books. I am honored to work with professor Goiti, and he is the main reason I have not left the country. I still have so much to learn from him."
"Like going to the moon"
Success has stolen some of his innocence and danger hovers over his spirit, he admits. Vanity plagues successful people. Cadmiel guards himself. Recently, he has come to understand his limitations better, to be easy on himself and to acknowledge the force of the unexpected in every situation.
"I went to a competition in France. I was very well prepared, but fatigue made me fumble one of the pieces. I stopped for a second or two, and, I don't know, I lost it. It happens, maybe because I was playing early in the morning..."
Cadmiel doesn't like mornings. He doesn't like his voice and he feels he's still too close to the realm of dreams to be coherent and focused. He did not make the finals in France, so he sat there listening to the ones who had had better luck.
"Everyone in the room was thinking: Now, if I'd been up there, I would have certainly done a better job. Then I realized how treacherous it can be. Who doesn't want to win?".
In concert with the Transylvania Philharmonic. Photo: personal archive.
When he goes on stage for a concert with the orchestra it's "like going to the moon." He distances himself from his surroundings. And yet, paradoxically, being a soloist is teamwork.
"You can't do everything you want because only chaos would ensue. You have communication. Through eye contact, through gestures, it's a miracle, a marvel, not saying a word. I think about the conductor: to move only your hand and to make 50-60 people play in unison, unite in harmony. It's a great thing!".
In September 2015, it's been 14 years since Cadmiel Botac first sat down at his piano. To relax, he usually plays soccer with the guys in the yard or on rented courts.
"Let the music say more":