Viral piano star interrupts ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ with a mind-blowing melodica duet surprise

25 May 2024, 10:22

Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue – Hayato Sumino FULL performance | Classic FM Live

By Kyle Macdonald

Pianist Hayato Sumino picks up a second instrument during a concerto movement, to stun the Royal Albert Hall and create an unforgettable moment of music-making.

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With 5,000 people looking on during a virtuosic Gershwin performance, it would take a lot of courage and inventiveness to swap a piano for what some might have thought was a child’s toy instrument.

Musical courage and the quest to push boundaries is something of Hayato Sumino’s calling card. And that’s just what happened last month at Classic FM Live, when the soloist script was ripped up, and the virtuosity of a new instrument revealed.

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During an improvised cadenza in the American composer’s masterpiece of piano and orchestra, the young Japanese pianist surprised the audience, shuffling on his stool slightly and reaching for a new instrument. The soloist had picked up a melodica, a plastic keyed instrument that is blown through a mouthpiece.

Extraordinarily, Sumino not only played the instrument, improvising on Gershwin’s musical themes, but also accompanied himself with his other hand on the piano. One player, two instruments. After the incredible interlude, he returned to the piano alone, with the orchestra in accompaniment. Watch the newly released video above and the melodica cadenza at 6.30 in.

Hayato Sumino plays Gershwin on Melodica at the Royal Albert Hall
Hayato Sumino plays Gershwin on Melodica at the Royal Albert Hall. Picture: Matt Crossick

Though instruments like this have been around for 200 years, the melodica as it is known today was invented in the 1950s as a lightweight plastic instrument, suited for music learning in school classrooms.

Sumino was playing with our partner orchestra the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and conductor Ben Palmer, in a special Classic FM Live that celebrated classical music’s great anthems. Understandably, no one saw a melodica coming.

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The concerto as a whole was remarkable from both orchestra and soloist, leading to a huge ovation in the hall. But the melodica moment was not the only touch of musical genius on display from the night’s star. During a quieter passage of the Gershwin, an audience member’s phone was heard.

Seizing the moment with expert subtlety, Sumino delicately weaved the motif of the ringing phone into his improvisation. Watch below.

Hayato Sumino’s moment of phone duet genius | Classic FM

The 2021 Chopin Piano Competition semifinalist has quickly created a devoted following. His musical fusions, improvisations and reinventions under his YouTuber name Cateen have generated millions of views.

His fans love not only his mastery of the conventional piano repertoire, but also his willingness to try new things, improvise and invent. And that’s what we all saw at the Royal Albert Hall that night, on piano and on the surprise instrument.