Attended Elwood High 1966 – 1967.
Alan won “Showcase”, a national talent competition, as a 13 year old pianist in 1966. He is an internationally renowned virtuoso pianist and a world authority on the music of Frederic Chopin. He studied, lived and performed in London, the USA and Europe for 30 years before returning to Australia in 2005.
“My parents came from Europe after the war and, from the moment they arrived in Australia in 1949, were determined to make a new and happy life for themselves. My sister and I both attended Elwood Primary School, Elwood Central (Year 7 and 8) and then Elwood High (9 and 10).
We lived in Spray Street and the whole of Elwood then was like my huge personal home. It was much more neighbourhood-style living in my day. Everyone knew each other and the school was the central point of the Elwood community. It was really like one big school in three stages, from Elwood Primary to Central to Elwood High. The school was perfect for me. Nobody cared or noticed where you came from and my sister and I loved it.
We had a dog, a kelpie ‘Rusty’, when we lived in Spray St. That dog would get through the fence at home and every day would run to the school and wander down all the corridors until he found me in my classroom. I was forever being called over the PA to come and collect my dog and take him home.
I started practising piano for hours a day when I was at Elwood Primary and by the time I was at High School I was practising 8-10 hours every day. Playing piano, classical piano, is all I ever really wanted to do.
I would start at 6am and do three hours before I ran to school for the 9am start, run home at 12 noon and do another hour over the school lunch break, and then run home at 4pm to do another four hours.
I knew I stood out from others then. No average kids were interested in classical music. They were listening to the Beatles or the Rolling Stones - yuck.
When I was 10 my father took me along to the Melbourne Town Hall to see the famous Polish American pianist Arthur Rubinstein, then aged almost 80, in concert. In those days it was common for fans to go backstage to meet artists. They were generous with their time and would greet everybody. Rubinstein was signing autographs but could not get through the pile so we were told to come to the Southern Cross Hotel the next day to pick up the signed programmes from the reception desk.
This was exactly the same day as the Beatles famously visited Melbourne and stood on the balcony of the Southern Cross Hotel to wave at screaming fans. We had to push our way through huge crowds in Bourke Street to get to the Hotel where we picked up my program signed by Rubinstein. I still have that programme today and I have grown accustomed to the Beatles.
I remember at Elwood High we had an outside assembly every Monday morning. The Vice Principal wore a black cape and carried a pointer. He used to walk up and down the rows looking for anybody whose trouser cuffs were too thin or too wide. He would measure the cuffs with a tape measure and if they were less than eight inches wide they were considered to be stove pipe pants, like those worn by the Beatles, and declared to be illegal. Students were promptly sent home to get them altered and were not allowed back until they were the right width.
This was pretty funny because by 1967 the trouser fashion had changed to bell bottoms and this time if the cuffs were more than 8 inches wide these were also declared illegal and had to be altered.
I knew I was seen as a bit of a dag at school. But when I won the talent competition on the 1966 “Showcase” TV show and then started appearing regularly on Graham Kennedy’s IMT, the other kids gave me a bit more respect. The Principal gave me some afternoons off, as long as I agreed to be the piano accompanist for school productions.”
The first episode of “BP Showcase” debuted in September 1965 and Alan, aged 12, was a contestant in the very first episode. He returned to the programme in 1966 and won the grand prize at the end of the series, which included $1,000 dollars plus an overseas trip for two to LA, New York and London.
In New York he performed on the internationally popular Ed Sullivan show and reported that the host was “very kind and supportive”. Other guests that night included Count Basie, Tony Bennett and Nancy Sinatra. Alan wrote a story on his overseas trip for the 1967 school magazine.
He left Elwood High at the end of Form 4 and finished his high school education at Melbourne High where he continued to “whack off” school to take the bus home to practice piano.
He studied music for two years in Philadelphia, Paris and London before returning to Melbourne to study at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music with renowned piano teacher Roy Shepherd. He was the youngest person ever awarded a Churchill Fellowship which enabled him to study in Paris and then London, and later he studied in Warsaw. Aged 20, he made his debuts at the Lincoln Centre in New York and the Wigmore Hall in London to critical acclaim.
At 21 and back in Australia, he was involved in a car accident and broke the bones of his right hand. The hand was saved by Melbourne plastic surgeon Frank Ham and after 18 months he had regained its full use. This led to him developing a method of helping people affected by carpal tunnel syndrome, by studying the anatomical aspects of piano technique to change his own posture at the keyboard.
Alan is a world authority on the music of Frederic Chopin (1810–1849), has produced a six-part television series about Chopin’s life and music (NY 2003), has orchestrated and completed an unfinished Chopin Piano Concerto and has written extensively on Chopin’s life and work.
He conceived, and for a decade hosted, a series of musical evenings in London with guest artists from all around the world. These were attended by members of the Royal Family including Princess Diana and the Queen Mother. He performed for them on many occasions after he became friends with Princess Diana.
In 2001 he became the artistic advisor to the Palm Beach Symphony in Florida. In 2000, he devised a programme called the “Two Allans” where he performed with his great Melbourne friend and acclaimed pianist, Allan Zavod.
In 2017 Alan lives a few kilometres from Elwood High and is writing and producing a new show showcasing the music of Liza Minnelli and Judy Garland called ‘Liza and Judy’.
Picture: Alan being congratulated by Ed Sullivan after his performance on the Ed Sullivan show in New York in 1966.