The Rice Brothers
Johnny & Chris
It can be a bit disarming to see Johnny and Chris, The Rice Brothers, in concert. After all, classical concert virtuosos are supposed to have that certain aura about them. We all know it. A pomposity, a starched formality, an almost cheerless presence on stage regardless of the glory of the music. But not these young men! They look and act more like they were the kids you grew up with just down the block. You might have expected to find them out on the baseball diamond manning second base and shortstop. Where are the tails? Where is that imperious demeanor? Instead, out onto the stage walk two delightful fellows who are .. casual? .. even friendly! Yes, it’s all a bit confusing, a bit out of kilter.
And then the music begins. Audiences are pulled in with the force of a magnet. They are beginning a musical journey with two consummate artists who have managed to defy all of the stuffy stereotypes while reaching deep into the hearts and souls of their listeners.
Where did it all start? When did the boys’ devoted parents, neither of whom claim to have a whit of musical skill, first realize that Johnny and Chris had a love for music? It was during a trip from their hometown of Phoenix, Arizona to fabled Disneyland that three-year-old Johnny was mesmerized by a pianist who was playing Ragtime and Boogie-Woogie. He immediately announced his intention to become a pianist. Lessons started at age four and soon it was apparent that this boy had “the gift.” Baby brother Chris, not to be left out, took up piano lessons at the age of two! Before long, they both began learning cello. Soon, the young Rice boys were being invited to play music at family gatherings, church events, schools and retirement communities. They loved learning the music of the masters, Beethoven, Bach, and Liszt, and because of their pride in their Polish heritage, especially Chopin. But the Ragtime from the hands of their very first mentor, John Hodges, stuck with them. Because of that early encounter, The Rice Brothers have always loved sharing the full spectrum of great music with their audiences, knowing its power to communicate with and transform a listener.
So just how did The Rice Brothers manage to develop from local child prodigies into international stars on the rise? There is no such thing as an easy path. To become the consummate artists they are has required years… no, decades… of training. And training they got! They were both accepted into the studio of internationally renowned pianist and Arizona State University professor Robert Hamilton. As they matured, Europe called. Studies with Johannes Kropfitsch of the Vienna Conservatory continued a deep exploration into those nuances of musicality and technique that separate the men from the boys. And yes, The Rice Brothers emerged as young men, stepping out as serious contenders on the world stage.
But piano alone was never enough for these two! Remarkably, The Rice Brothers have developed stunning skills on the cello as well as the piano. They began rigorous training with Taki Atsumi, long-time President of the American Cello Congress and Professor at Arizona State University. The Rice Brothers received coaching from international icons such as Mstislav Rostropovich (who said to their father: “You need to understand…your sons are massively talented!”) and Eugene Friesen, Grammy Award-winning jazz cellist.
Full of energy and commitment, armed with the finest training imaginable, and winners each of gold medals in an international Chopin competition, The Rice Brothers were ready for the world stage. And where better to launch an international career than at New York’s Carnegie Hall! Their 2014 performance thrilled the audience and elicited multiple standing ovations, a rare occurrence in such a prestigious venue. Since that momentous evening, concert venues all across America and Europe have been opening their doors to The Rice Brothers. They are equally at ease in large performing arts halls, in class rooms with children of all ages, in house concerts, or as soloists with renowned orchestras.
And yet through all of their successes The Rice Brothers, Johnny and Chris, are still the same sweet and friendly boys from Phoenix, devoted to sharing the beauty of music, knowing that great music, regardless of the genre, has a unique way of reaching deeply into the human heart. What more could you ever ask from two “kids from down the block”?