A delightful and engagingly “humble” young boy by the name of Ethan Bortnick, just eleven years old, headlined a concert at The Music Center at Strathmore on Friday, March 23, 2012. He is clearly talented and entertaining, and his personality is truly charming. Bortnick’s program featured Bortnick on piano and vocals, accompanied by Ryan Skiles on keyboards and Emmanuel Cervantes on drums. It included classical, jazz, and pop rock tunes, a number of which were composed by Bortnick, interspersed with a variety of interesting video clips showing the entertainer with family and with many well-known musical and political celebrities, and also included two songs that featured young singers from the A. Mario Loiderman Middle School for the Creative and Performing Arts, as well as a very entertaining segment that featured a poised and accomplished young volunteer pianist from the audience.
Perhaps because of his young age and his technical expertise, which is understandably very much a work in progress both vocally and instrumentally, Bortnick was presented as a novelty act. This is concerning, because sadly, and fairly or not fairly, the cuteness factor wears off very, very early for young entertainers. This said, the concert was entertaining, without doubt, and Ethan has wonderful raw talent, a really good musical ear, and fantastic audience rapport.
Bortnick was most enjoyable and at his best when he was performing his own music, especially the music that leaned on jazz improvisation. Classically, his technique is lacking, but he has a wonderful ear, and so it is easy for him to pump out the pop-rock sounds he has heard from Elton John, Billy Joel, and others, and the audience enjoyed him immensely whenever he did. However, when Ethan gets around to jazz, it’s the real thing, and it’s wonderful. More than anywhere else, this is where he truly shines. He is not imitating jazz. He hears jazz.
One of Ethan’s best performances of the night came in the form of an instrumental jazz piece about manatees traveling the ocean’s waters from Florida to the Arctic Circle … a piece called “Arctic Jazz.” To the delight of his audience, Bortnick referenced all of his compositions as ‘songs’ and introduced this song and every other “song” he composed as “Title of Song, by Ethan Bortnick.”
Ethan demonstrated his musical ear quite frequently throughout the evening, at one point bringing audience members onstage to play their cell phone ringtones, which he immediately used to improvise a new “song” on the fly. At another point, after explaining how he could hear a simple melody and play or compose around it, he asked for a volunteer to come to the stage and play the piano. While he was expecting to hear “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” to his surprise and that of the audience, a little boy by the name of Anthony ran onstage, and it turned out he could really play. Anthony, who appeared to be much younger than Ethan, was very accomplished and poised for his age. He played beautifully, and when Ethan reached around him from behind to augment his sound with a little four-handed piano, it did not throw the unsuspecting and unrehearsed Anthony off for a single second. The performance won Anthony a well-deserved ovation.A poignant moment in the evening came when Ethan spoke of his genuine love for his little brother, who was born missing two heart chambers. Although his start in life was precarious, Bortnick explained with pride and obvious joy that, with the help of a wonderful doctor and surgeon, his brother, now six, has defied all odds and become an amazing and fearless athlete. “It’s a Miracle” was composed by Ethan to honor his brother and doctors everywhere for their important and life changing work.
It was absolutely wonderful to see so many young people in the audience for Ethan’s concert. It was clear that the majority of them were aspiring musicians who were there to support Ethan, but also to learn from him. Ethan was very aware of their presence and showed great and sincere interest in them, as he did with the kids from Loiderman who performed with him. He was actually very much aware of all of his audience and totally at ease communicating with them as he engaged everybody in all of his music throughout the night.
Ethan Bortnick is a very talented kid, a wonderful budding composer, and a seasoned entertainer. As he indicated himself, at eleven years of age, he does not yet know for sure what he wants to be when he grows up. He has a lot of people rooting for him. It will be most interesting to see where his journey leads. I’ll be cheering for him, wherever that may be.
The Music Center at Strathmore
Click here to purchase tickets online or call 301.581.5100
The Music Center at Strathmore
5301 Tuckerman Lane
North Bethesda, MD 20852-3385
The Mansion at Strathmore
10701 Rockville Pike
North Bethesda, MD 20852-3224
Ethan Bortnick’s website.