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updated: 5/26/2011 6:33 AM

Music more than string of notes to Palatine twins

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  • Twins Ryan, left, and Kyle Jannak-Huang of Palatine get fired up at the chance to compete.

       Twins Ryan, left, and Kyle Jannak-Huang of Palatine get fired up at the chance to compete.
    Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

  • Twins Ryan, left, and Kyle Jannak-Huang of Palatine are 13-year-old classical pianists.

       Twins Ryan, left, and Kyle Jannak-Huang of Palatine are 13-year-old classical pianists.
    Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

  • Twins Ryan, left, and Kyle Jannak-Huang of Palatine are 13-year-old classical pianists.

       Twins Ryan, left, and Kyle Jannak-Huang of Palatine are 13-year-old classical pianists.
    Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

  • Twins Kyle, left, and Ryan Jannak-Huang of Palatine are 13-year-old classical pianists. They are playing a piece written for four hands.

       Twins Kyle, left, and Ryan Jannak-Huang of Palatine are 13-year-old classical pianists. They are playing a piece written for four hands.
    Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

  • Twins Kyle, left, and Ryan Jannak-Huang of Palatine are 13-year-old classical pianists.

       Twins Kyle, left, and Ryan Jannak-Huang of Palatine are 13-year-old classical pianists.
    Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

  • Twins Kyle, left, and Ryan Jannak-Huang of Palatine are 13-year-old classical pianists.

       Twins Kyle, left, and Ryan Jannak-Huang of Palatine are 13-year-old classical pianists.
    Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

  • Twins Kyle and Ryan Jannak-Huang of Palatine are 13-year-old classical pianists.

       Twins Kyle and Ryan Jannak-Huang of Palatine are 13-year-old classical pianists.
    Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

  • Video: Kyle and Ryan Jannak-Huang

 
 

Kyle and Ryan Jannak-Huang were over the moon when they got to meet their idol, Russian classical pianist Evgeny Kissin, in February backstage at the Symphony Center in Chicago.

The 13-year-old Palatine twins grew up watching DVDs of Kissin's virtuoso performances and say they want to be like him when they grow up.

It's far from a pipe dream.

Kyle and Ryan are extraordinarily talented young pianists who have a real chance to become successful, professional musicians, said Jim Setapen, director of the Academy at the Music Institute of Chicago.

The twins are among an exclusive group of just more than 50 young students from all over the country admitted into the academy, whose all-day Saturday curriculum is modeled upon the pre-college program at the prestigious Juilliard School in New York.

"(Kyle and Ryan) are spectacular, very bright and very musical," Setapen said. "Just to make it in (the academy) is amazing, and they are near the top of that group."

Not surprisingly, the twins have put in incredible hours of steady practice to perfect their craft over the years -- almost 8,000 hours worth since they started taking lessons at the tender age of 5.

Individually, Kyle and Ryan are polite, even reserved. Together, they become animated, ribbing each other about silly things like any 13-year-olds would. But they show remarkable seriousness when they talk about how hard they work at their craft.

First, they master the notes, they said.

And then they dig deeper.

"You have to know the notes of the piece so you can start working on the musicality and the dynamics," Kyle said. "Then you can open your mind up and get into the piece."

"You can't just run off with a bunch of notes. It takes a lot of thought," Ryan said.

The twins, seventh-graders at Sundling Junior High in Palatine, live with their mother, Eva Huang, but spend most of their time five minutes away at the house of their aunt and piano teacher, Brenda Huang.

"I feel very lucky that my sister was able to take them under their wing and teach them piano, because I've never had to worry about it," Eva said.

Every day after school, the twins go to Aunt Brenda's house, where they do homework and practice piano for three to four hours until well after dinnertime. Grandmother Isabel Huang, who lives with Brenda, is the main disciplinarian.

Brenda Huang said she has watched them blossom from initially unremarkable students to curious, dedicated pianists who get fired up at the chance to compete.

Kyle is a meticulous, reliable performer who thinks methodically about music, while Ryan embraces his emotions and can be exhilarating to watch, if a little unpredictable, Brenda said.

Both are equally accomplished and can play intricate pieces usually tackled by much older pianists. "I give them guidance and occasionally prompt them, but by now they also come up with music on their own," Brenda said.

Kyle said his golden moment was performing Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Lake Forest Symphony as a winner of the Steinway Young Artists competition. "I liked the piece a lot. I worked hard and I really wanted to do well," he said.

Ryan, who last year won the Virginia Geyser Behrendt and the Amei Hu Lin scholarship competitions, said his best performance was at a concert during summer camp last year at the International Institute for Young Musician in Kansas. "The interpretation and rendition just went really deep," said Ryan, who played the third movement of Beethoven's Tempest Sonata.

Between school -- where they get good grades and help other kids in music class -- piano lessons, the academy on Saturday and Chinese school on Sunday, Kyle and Ryan don't have a lot of free time.

Sometimes they wish they could have more playtime, they admitted, but they choose to put in the hard work. "We have goals," Kyle said. "We want to do well."

In the end, the twins will be allowed to make whatever decision they want about their future, Brenda said.

"I want them to go as far as they can and be the best they can," she said. "I will definitely support them if they decide on another field. I just want them to be successful."

Their mother agrees. "I want them both to know that there are other things out there, should they decide to do something else," she said.

• Elena Ferrarin and Kimberly Pohl are always looking for Suburban Standouts to profile. If you know of someone whose story just wows you, please send a note including name, town, email and phone contacts for you and the nominee to standouts@dailyherald.com.

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