Southold School District

At just 11 years of age, Peconic boy plays Carnegie Hall

To see her 11-year-old son, Daniel, play piano at Carnegie Hall on June 2 was a dream come true for Peconic resident Liliana Rila.

“It was such an unforgettable experience,” Ms. Rila said. “It was a magical evening.”

Daniel, a sixth-grader at Southold Elementary school, had the chance to play at the world-renowned music hall after coming in second in the international “Little Mozarts” competition, hosted by New York City-based nonprofit Crescendo International Music. The piece he performed at the winner’s recital June 2 was Mozart’s “Rondo Alla Turca.”

“In the beginning he was nervous, but he somehow managed to make two friends in the group of kids performing … and then he was not nervous at all,” Ms. Rila said. “He really enjoyed playing at Carnegie Hall.”

Daniel began playing the piano when he was about 4 1/2, practicing about a half hour a week, his mother said. He first took lessons with Southold piano teacher Laurie DiBartolo, and later began studying improvisation and jazz with East End composer George Cork Maul. He practices several hours a day, but on his own schedule, Ms. Rila said.

“For him, piano is like a release from everything,” his mother said. “When he’s tired, he goes and practices piano. When he’s happy, he goes and practices piano. It’s his escape.”

Ms. Rila, an accountant, and her husband, Daniel, who works in real estate, moved to the North Fork from Bucharest, Romania, in 1998, and their son, named after Mr. Rila, was born nine years later. Mr. Rila’s mother, Ana Rila, arrived to stay with the couple when Daniel was just one day old, and has helped to look after him while they worked. When Ana was young she dreamed of becoming a teacher, but her dream ended when her father died immediately after World War II and her access to higher education became impossible.

“I feel so much joy seeing my grandson successfully in what he loves doing the most,” Ana, 86, said. “I am proud of him and I feel that my life is complete. This is the best place to be and I hope children realize the door is open for endless opportunities.”

Piano is not Daniel’s only talent — he also excels in tennis, ranked 65th in the eastern region and 600th in the United States in his age group. His mother said he also loves studying American history and his rescued German shepherd, Sparky, who he takes to all his tennis practices.

“Regardless of rankings or awards, to see the smile on my son’s face at the end of a performance is priceless,” Daniel’s father said. “It doesn’t matter what Danny will decide to dedicate to, I am positive that his two passions — music and tennis — will have a positive impact in his life”.

In the future, Daniel plans to organize either a tennis tournament or music event as a fundraiser benefiting North Fork Animal League Welfare, according to his mother. She also said that Daniel is eager to continue his studies and continue entering competitions.

“He’s ready to go to the next one,” she said. “He’s started the engine … he doesn’t want it to end.”