Alma Deutscher

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Alma Deutscher
A portrait of Alma Deutscher by Alex Nightingale Smith.jpg
Alma Deutscher in July 2016
Born
Alma Elizabeth Deutscher

February 2005 (age 14)
Basingstoke, England
ResidenceVienna, Austria
Occupation
Known for, music composition
Parent(s)Janie Deutscher (née Steen) and Guy Deutscher
Websitewww.almadeutscher.com

Alma Elizabeth Deutscher (born February 2005) is an English composer, pianist and violinist. At age six she composed her first piano sonata. At age seven, she completed a short opera The Sweeper of Dreams. Aged nine, she wrote a concerto for violin and orchestra.[1] At the age of ten she wrote her first full-length opera, Cinderella, which had its European premiere in Vienna in 2016 under the patronage of conductor Zubin Mehta.[2] The U.S. premiere a year later was released on DVD by Sony Classical. At the age of twelve, Deutscher premiered her first piano concerto.[3] She is due to give her debut at Carnegie Hall in December 2019.[4]

Background[edit]

Deutscher was born in Basingstoke in 2005,[5] the daughter of literature professor Janie Deutscher (née Steen) and Israeli linguist Guy Deutscher. Both are amateur musicians.[6]

She began playing piano at the age of two, followed by violin at three. At four she was composing and improvising on the piano, and by five, had begun writing down her compositions. These first written notations were unclear, but by six, she could write clear compositions and had composed her first piano sonata. At seven, she composed her first short opera, at nine, a violin concerto, and her first full-length opera at age ten.[7][8] According to her father, she could name the notes on a piano when she was two. "For her third birthday I bought her a little violin as a toy. She was so excited by it and tried playing on it for days on end, so we decided to try to find her a teacher. Within less than a year she was playing Handel sonatas."[9][10] In a 2017 interview with the Financial Times, Deutscher said: "I remember when I was three and I was listening to a lullaby by Richard Strauss, I loved it! I especially loved the harmony; I always call it the Strauss harmony now. And after it finished I asked my parents 'How could music be so beautiful'"[11]

Deutscher's initial media exposure may be traced to writer and comedian Stephen Fry publicising her YouTube channel when she was seven, by writing: "Simply mind-blowing: Alma Deutscher playing her own compositions. A new Mozart?", with a link to one of Deutscher's videos.[12] Television crews arrived at her family home the next day. Guy Deutscher spoke of his concerns surrounding Alma's initial press coverage. He explained that the family had been unprepared for the intense exposure and that they view as their most important task as protecting her and ensuring that she has a happy childhood.[8] In September 2014, a viral YouTube mashup video released by Israeli musician Kutiman ("Give It Up") featured a 4-second ostinato assembled from pieces of one of Deutscher's early videos.

By 2019, Deutscher's official YouTube channel has gathered more than 9 million views and 90,000 subscribers.[13]

Compositional method[edit]

In numerous interviews, Deutscher has stressed the fundamental difference between the spontaneous moments of inspiration, in which she hears a melody in her head, and the laborious process of composing complete polished pieces out of these melodies.[14] Her melodies themselves often arrive unbidden.[15] At Zeitgeist Minds, she explained: "When I try to get a melody it never comes to me. It usually comes either when I'm resting or when I'm just sitting at the piano improvising, or when I'm skipping with my skipping rope. Or even when I'm trying to do something else, when somebody is talking to me or I'm trying to do something, then I hear this beautiful melody."[14] "When I am in an improvising mood", she explained in an interview with the Daily Telegraph in June 2016, "melodies burst from my fingertips."[16] Deutscher initially described her purple skipping rope as 'magical' and a part of her melodic inspiration: "I wave it around, and melodies pour into my head"[7] A 2015 interview with BBC News showed Deutscher waving the rope in the garden of her family home and singing an improvised melody.[17] In an interview with the New York Times in 2019 she explained: "When I was younger, I really thought it was the rope that gave me inspiration. Now, I know it’s not really the rope, it’s the state of mind that I get into when I wave it around".[18]

Melodies also come to Deutscher in her dreams. (Various composers in the past reported similar experiences, most famously Tartini, in his Sonate du Diable). Describing one such dream-composition, the themes for a set of piano variations in E-flat, Deutscher said: "I woke up and I didn't want to lose the melodies so I took my notebook and wrote it all down, which took almost three hours. My parents didn't understand why I was so tired in the morning and didn't want to get up."[15] Sections of her first opera, The Sweeper of Dreams, also came to her fully formed in a dream.[19] Deutscher is also said to draw inspiration from an imaginary country called Transylvanian: "I made up my own land with its own language and there are beautiful composers there, named Antonin Yellowsink and Ashy and Shell and Flara".

However, Deutscher has explained that the spontaneous flow of melodies should not be confused with the hard work involved in creating larger and complex compositions, where the idea or initial melody is only the very first part of a long and laborious process. At Zeitgeist Minds, she explained: "Lots of people think that the difficult part of composing is to get the ideas, but actually that just comes to me. The difficult bit is then to sit down with that idea, to develop it, to combine it with other ideas in a coherent way."[14][20] To the Financial Times, she said that the challenging part of composition is to develop the ideas, deciding "how to make everything fit to make it a coherent structure. That’s extremely difficult." [11]

Critical reception[edit]

Much of the critical response to Deutscher's compositions in the first years of her public exposure centered on her young age and status as a child prodigy. Commenting on the public perception of child prodigies and their musical output, Deutscher told the newspaper Die Zeit when she was 10: "I want my music to be taken seriously ... and sometimes it's a little bit difficult for people to take me seriously because I'm just a little girl."[14]

More recent responses have focused on Deutscher's compositions and performances. Reviewing the world premiere of her piano concerto at the opening concert of the Carinthian Summer [de] music festival in Austria in 2017, in which Deutscher, as soloist, performed both her piano concerto and her violin concerto,[21] the Austrian newspaper Kronen Zeitung entitled its review: "Flying fingers, Grand Music" and hailed the concert as, "a triumph of creativity: whether it is her sparkling and richly ornamented Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, or the world-premiere of her striking and nuance-rich Piano Concerto in E-flat major: these are supple, powerful, sumptuous tones, with which this (still) child creates musical wonders."[22]

According to the Guardian newspaper, conductor Simon Rattle declared that he was "absolutely bowled over" by her.[23] In an interview with BBC Television, Rattle called Deutscher "a force of nature", and said: "I don't know that I've come across anyone of that age with quite such an astonishing range of gifts. It's natural for her, it's play, and I think it was play for certain brilliant composers, young composers, like Mozart, like Korngold. These are very unusual people who have this."[24] According to the Daily Telegraph, pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim said of Deutscher: "Everything that cannot be learnt, she already has".[16] In an interview with the Austrian newspaper Der Standard in November 2016, conductor Zubin Mehta described Alma Deutscher as "a genius"[25] and on Austrian Television, he called her "one of the greatest talents of today".[26]

The composer Jörg Widmann called her an "extraordinary phenomenon" and said he had never met a talent such as hers before.[27]

The pianist and pedagogue Arie Vardi described his first meeting with Deutscher: "People had said that she was a prodigy, but usually I'm a little sceptical about this term, sceptical both about those who bestow this title and those on which it is bestowed... Although I had reservations, from the moment I actually met this girl in the corridor and she said 'hello' – it was impossible not to love her... I have a feeling that with Alma the wonder will not be lost, because she has such wide horizons."

The German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter wrote that "it is absolutely extraordinary what this young girl has managed to achieve on the violin, the piano, and in her compositions. Her musical sensitivity and her powers of expression already at this age underline her exceptional talent."[28]

The composer and musicologist Ron Weidberg said of Deutscher's melodies: "Alma's most important talent is the perfect connection between her inner world and the melodies she creates, which are so beautiful because they stem directly from this inner world. Few composers can write such tunes, which from the first moment are immediately impressed upon our memory, and thus turn into the possession of all those who listen to them. Alma is one of these composers, and this is why we are confident that the melodies she is writing now will remain with us even when we ourselves no longer remain the same as we were."[29]

"Alma and the dangerous love of melody"[edit]

In January 2017, following the premiere of Deutscher's opera, Cinderella, in Vienna, an article entitled "Alma and the dangerous love of melody" appeared in the Viennese newspaper Der Standard, which expressed the hope that Deutscher's melodious music may help to change the prevailing attitudes in contemporary classical music and inject a new life into the world of opera, by steering it back toward melody.[30] The author, Robert Schediwy [de], notes the storm of enthusiasm with which Deutscher's Cinderella was received by the public, and asserts that the public would have loved the opera even if it had been written by a 40-year-old man, because (as many of the critics have noted) it is full of beautiful melodies. However, Schediwy also expresses the fear that if Deutscher's "uninhibited love of melody" continues as she grows older, and especially if the wider public continues enjoying her music, the response of 'advanced culture-theorists' would no longer be favorable. They would then regard Deutscher's love of melody as a threat, and accuse it of 'anachronism', 'cultural populism'. Schediwy himself expressed the hope that Deutscher's love of melody might help opera reconnect with the wider public and inject new life into the world of opera, which is so often pronounced dead nowadays.

In February 2017, Deutscher made a public statement about her style, her love of melody, and her musical aesthetics, in a message to a press conference of the Carinthian Summer Music Festival in Austria. She explained that some people have expressed to her the view that one should not compose beautiful melodies in the twenty-first century, but that music must reflect the complexity and ugliness of the modern world. "But I think that these people just got a little bit confused. If the world is so ugly, then what's the point of making it even uglier with ugly music?".[31] She then cited the lullaby by Richard Strauss mentioned above as her early inspiration to write music that is beautiful.[32] In July 2017, Deutscher further elaborated this point in an interview with the newspaper Der Standard. Asked about her dreams for the next ten years, she said: "...but the best thing would be if people stopped telling me how it is allowed or not allowed to compose in the twenty-first century. I hope they will have stopped counting my dissonances."[33] In 2019, Deutscher explained to the New York Times: "Lots of people have been telling me that if I want to grow up, I have to compose music that will reflect the ugliness of the modern world. I don’t want to do this. I want to compose music that I find beautiful."[18]

In April 2018, Austrian critic Wilhelm Sinkovicz [de] added his voice to the discussion, after he heard Deutscher performing her own piano concerto in Vienna.[34] He explained that it was natural to be suspicious of Deutscher's style and achievements, but that his suspicions were extinguished by the quality of her music, which—despite moving in the Romantic worlds of Mendelssohn and Grieg—is full of extraordinarily original ideas and genuine surprises. He concluded that it is a misconception to believe that the language of music must constantly move 'forward' or that composers need to invent the wheel each time anew. "The world turns in a circle", he wrote, "but always sprouts new, beautiful flowers, if one only lets them sprout."

Deutscher herself has often stressed her strong affinity to the musical language of the Viennese Classics. She told the New York Times in 2019: "I lived in England, but I grew up on the music of Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven and Haydn. Musically speaking, I think that Vienna's always been my home."[18] However, Deutscher objects to the frequent newspaper headlines comparing her to Mozart: "I don't really want to be a little Mozart. I want to be Alma."[16] Her parents also reject the comparison, and do not want their daughter to feel burdened by being compared to other composers.[8][20][35]

Operas[edit]

The Sweeper of Dreams (2012)[edit]

Deutscher's first completed opera, from age seven, is a short work inspired by Neil Gaiman's story, "The Sweeper of Dreams", with the text adapted from a libretto by Elizabeth Adlington.[9][10][36] Parts of the score came to Deutscher in a dream.[37] The first performance of the opera was in Israel in 2013.[38] In the story, a job is advertised for a Sweeper of Dreams, who is to help people forget their nightmares. The three middle-aged men on the committee are shocked to discover that the only candidate, Alex, is a sixteen-year-old girl. Her interviewers mock her, because she "committed two terrible crimes: the first was being a child, the second was being female."[14] But through her talent and determination, Alex proves her suitability and is hired.

The theme of female empowerment is recurrent in Deutscher's operas, and also dominates her full length opera, Cinderella. She told the New York Times in 2019: "I'm a very strong feminist and I'm really happy that I was born now, when girls are allowed to develop their talents.".[18] She said she is particularly attracted to stories of women overcoming adversity".

Cinderella (2013-17)[edit]

Deutscher's second opera is a full-length work based on the fairy tale of Cinderella, but with significant modifications of the plot, which revolves around music. It is set in an opera house run by the evil stepmother. The two step-sisters are portrayed as talentless would-be divas. Cinderella is a talented composer, with "beautiful melodies springing into her head", but she is not allowed to perform and is slaved-worked as a copyist.[39][40] The prince is a Romantic poet, who is mocked at court for his artistic leanings. In the first act, Cinderella chances upon a captivating love poem, which unbeknownst to her, was written by the prince. She is inspired by the poem and sets it to her own music. Her melody is then stolen by her step-sisters and sung at a singing competition during the ball, but with the wrong words. Finally, Cinderella herself sings her melody to the prince, unaware that he wrote words of the poem. After Cinderella flees from the ball at midnight, the prince searches for Cinderella, not using a glass slipper as in the traditional fairy tale, but using a melody. Eventually, the pair is united: "they find each other like lyrics find melody".[14] Deutscher explained that her Cinderella "is not just a pretty girl who cleans the floor and keeps quiet, she’s clever and talented", and she wins the prince not through the size of her foot, but because of her talent as a composer.[11]

Deutscher started working on the opera at age 8. An early chamber version of the opera was performed in Israel in 2015.[41] Deutscher finished writing the overture to the opera "just a few days before the performance".[42] In 2016, Deutscher expanded the opera considerably and orchestrated it for an ensemble of 20 musicians, and in December 2016, a longer version of the opera (in German) premiered in Vienna, with conductor Zubin Mehta as patron of the production.[43] The premiere was received with a standing ovation and with jubilation by the Austrian and international press.[44] In 2017 Deutscher re-orchestrated the opera for a full orchestra of 44 musicians, and considerably expanded the score from the Vienna version. The full version of Cinderella was premiered in December 2017 in San José, California.[45] The production of Opera San Jose and the Packard Humanities Institute was sung in English and performed with a large orchestra, choir, and dancers, led by British conductor Jane Glover.[46] Deutscher performed on both the violin and piano during the opera, as she did in earlier productions, and on this occasion, also performed on the organ. The five performances sold out within the hour following a feature on CBS Sixty Minutes and an additional two performances were arranged.[47] The San Jose production was released on DVD by Sony Classical Records in 2018.[48]

Reception of the opera[edit]

Reviewer Heather Mac Donald called it an "opera of astounding wit, craft, and musical beauty... The sheer amount of orchestral and vocal invention is stunning", and predicted that Cinderella would find its way to Broadway.[49] Opera Today described it as "a young talent’s sensational burst to prominence", and as "once-in-a-lifetime opera-going event that had audiences standing and cheering." [50] The Daily Telegraph wrote:

Cinderella proves that Deutscher is an extraordinary talent. Prodigy is a much-misused term, but the maturity of her composition would suggest that, for once, it is not mere hyperbole. That a young girl could have the mental energy to compose a two-hour opera and take credit for its full orchestration is staggering; that the end result is a lively, coherent piece of comic opera is exceptional.[39]

The Viennese newspaper Der Standard described Deutscher as

this amazing girl, who has also written this amazingly good opera, which sparkles with original ideas. Stylistically, Cinderella moves between "Vienna Classic" and early Romanticism. From this cache of music history, however, emerge remarkable inspirations, which understand the psychological corset of the characters. Here, someone with a great deal of empathy delves into the characters. And she also understands how to build scenes, keep them in tension, and orchestrate dense atmospheres. Alma Deutscher proves talent for the humorous as well as the melancholy.[51]

The Vienna Opera Journal Der Neue Merker wrote:

What is really perplexing, however, is that the composer can capture wonderfully different moods of the soul. The sad ballad of Cinderella, which is constantly recurring in leitmotiv, the despair of the unworldly prince-poet, who shows no interest at all in the affairs of government, the evil of the ladies’ trio: everything is congenially cast into music. It all sounds truly inspired – and also in the instrumentation, as if the artist always knew exactly what she wanted to do. There is nothing arbitrary or left to chance.[52]

Adaptations[edit]

In January 2018, the Vienna State Opera premiered a short (75') adaptation for young children of Deutscher's opera, for a four month run (January—May 2018) on its studio stage.[53] All performances sold out. In October 2018, A short ballet adaptation was put on in Berlin by the Kinder Ballett Kompanie.[54]

Awards[edit]

Education and home life[edit]

Deutscher lives in Vienna, Austria. She is educated at home. She was registered for school in England at the age of five and attended an orientation day, but reported feeling bored, upset, and untutored.[8] She told the BBC when she was ten: "I never want to go to school. I have to go outside and get fresh air, and read."[56] Two years later she explained to the Financial Times: "I think that I learn at home in one hour what it would take at school five hours to learn".[11] In 2010, her parents explained that they were led to choose home education by their belief that creativity requires both freedom and nurturing. They characterised Alma's musical creativity as a part of her wider creative imagination. [8][57]

Deutscher's early musical education focused on creative improvisation, as described by Robert Gjerdingen's analysis of creative methods of teaching music to children in eighteenth-century Italy. According to the book, Musical Prodigies: Interpretations from Psychology, Education, Musicology, and Ethnomusicology,[58] Professor Gjerdingen sent exercises and commented on technical aspects of Deutscher's composition, while she had lessons in improvisation from the Swiss musician Tobias Cramm via Skype, with the pair using the pedagogical method of the eighteenth-century Italian partimenti, instructional bass lines used for the teaching of harmony, counterpoint, and improvisation.[59] Alma initially became fluent in the musical grammar of eighteenth-century music.[57][58][60] Her father has said that she doesn’t have regular instruction in formal composition, rather that "...there are good-hearted experts who help her sporadically and there's a lot of self-teaching."[8][57]

In her first years of life, Alma was the subject of her father's language experiments related to his professional research.[61] As reported in The Nation, he made sure never to tell her the sky was "blue", for instance, in an effort to understand why ancient cultures never used this term for the sky. Her perceptions, especially calling the clear sky, "white", were reported in Guy Deutscher's 2010 book, Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages.[62]

Performances[edit]

Deutscher has played her own music as a soloist with orchestras around the world, including Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, the Oviedo Filarmonía, Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, the Welsh National Opera Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Vienna Chamber Orchestra.[63] And in 2018 she made recital debuts in the Aix-en-Provence Festival and the Lucerne Festival.[64][65]

She has said that she thrives on performing music, particularly before an audience.[8] Her parents are reported to limit her performances, selecting opportunities to perform that they consider the most enjoyable and helpful for her.[38] She has performed on television shows including NBC,[35] The Ellen DeGeneres Show,[7] CBS 60 Minutes.[66] She has given recitals and public performances in multiple countries in Europe, the Americas, and Asia, including UK,[67] Germany,[68] Austria, France,[69] Switzerland, Spain, Italy, Ireland,[70] Japan, China,[71] Israel,[72] USA, Canada, and Uruguay. Some of her performances have been financially supported by the London-based entrepreneur David Giampaolo.[73]

In May 2018, Deutscher was invited by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz to perform during a memorial service for the end of the war in Europe, where she played an adaptation of part of her piano concerto, and later accompanied the Vienna Boys' Choir.[74] A few weeks later, she also played for the Austrian Chancellor and the Russian President Vladimir Putin during the latter's state visit to Austria.[75]

She is due to give her debut at Carnegie Hall in New York in December 2019, in a concert dedicated to her own compositions.[4]

A piano album of her compositions is due to appear with Sony Classical Records in the Fall of 2019.[76]

Television appearances[edit]

Intermezzo with Arik (2014)[edit]

In 2014 Deutscher (aged 8) gave an extended appearance on Intermezzo with Arik, the Israel Educational Television programme presented by the pianist, conductor, and piano pedagogue Professor Arie Vardi.

Deutscher performed an on-the-spot improvisation around musical notes presented to her at random. Conversing in both English and Hebrew, Vardi asked Deutscher whether she improvised using "...the head or the fingers?"; Deutscher explained that she improvises melodies and harmonies in her head, sometimes unintentionally, such as when conversing with others. After listening to Deutscher perform a sonata by Domenico Scarlatti, Vardi commented that she played Scarlatti's music as though she had composed it.

BBC1 Imagine (2017)[edit]

In September 2017, Deutscher was the subject of an hour-long BBC documentary in the Imagine television series on BBC One. The BBC team followed her during a period of several months at the end of 2016 that included the rehearsals and performances of her opera, Cinderella, in Vienna in December 2016.[24]

CBS 60 Minutes (2017)[edit]

In November 2017, Deutscher was the subject of a segment on the CBS program 60 Minutes with Scott Pelley. In addition to interviews, the program included excerpts from the world premiere of her piano concerto, Austria, in the summer of 2017.[66]

List of Compositions[edit]

  • Piano Sonata in E-flat major, aged 6[77]
  • Andante for Violin, aged 6[78]
  • Rondino (trio) in E-flat major for violin, viola, and piano, aged 7[68]
  • The Sweeper of Dreams (opera), aged 7[79]
  • Quartet movement in A major, aged 7[80]
  • Viola Sonata in C minor (first movement), aged 8[81]
  • Quartet movement in G major, Rondo, aged 8[82]
  • The Night Before Christmas, song to words by C. Moore, aged 8, revised at aged 13[83]
  • Violin Sonata (first movement), aged 8[84]
  • Trio for violin, viola, and piano, aged 9[85]
  • Violin Concerto in G minor, aged 9, revised at aged 12[1][86]
  • Dance of the Solent Mermaids, for orchestra, aged 9[87]
  • Cinderella, a full-length opera, aged 8–12[88]
  • Piano Concerto in E-flat major, aged 10–12[89]
  • Near the beloved, a song to words by Goethe, aged 13[90]
  • Siren Sounds Waltz, aged 14[91]

Discography[edit]

Title Album details
The Music of Alma Deutscher
  • Released: 2013
  • Label: Flara Records
  • Formats: CD, digital download
Cinderella (Opera)
  • Released: 2018
  • Label: Sony Classical
  • Formats: DVD, Blu-ray
From My Book of Melodies
  • To be released: Fall 2019[76]
  • Label: Sony Classical
  • Formats: CD, digital download

References[edit]

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  2. ^ Aria from Cinderella in Vienna on YouTube. Accessed 15 July 2018. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
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  4. ^ a b https://www.carnegiehall.org/Calendar/2019/12/12/Alma-Deutscher-at-Carnegie-Hall-0730PM
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  6. ^ "Announcements". The Telegraph. The Telegraph. Retrieved 1 December 2015. On 4th May 2008, to Janie (née Steen) and Guy, a daughter, Helen Clara, a sister for Alma.
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  27. ^ [Impressionen, Mitteilungen der Anne-Sophie Mutter Stiftung, 35,|date = 1 July 2016, page 4]
  28. ^ Mutter, Anne-Sophie (1 December 2015). "Impressionen, Mitteilungen der Anne-Sophie Mutter Stiftung, 35,".
  29. ^ Dr Ron Weidberg, composer and musicologist, on Alma's compositions, Retrieved 20 Jan 2016.
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  34. ^ "Die zauberischen Töne reicher Jungmädchenfantasien". Retrieved 10 June 2018.
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  37. ^ Sharon Thomas, "ITV News Interview with Alma Deutscher", ITV.com, Vimeo Missing or empty |url= (help)
  38. ^ a b Jessica Steinberg (6 August 2013). "Raising Little Mozart". TimesOfIsrael.com. Times Of Israel. Retrieved 1 December 2015.
  39. ^ a b https://www.telegraph.co.uk/opera/what-to-see/does-opera-11-year-old-sound-like/
  40. ^ 10 year old music prodigy becomes youngest signed to agent; accessed 10 Jan 2016.
  41. ^ Cinderella, a full-length opera by Alma Deutscher on YouTube
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  43. ^ http://www.cbsnews.com/news/alma-deutcher-tween-music-prodigy-cinderella-opera-set-for-vienna-debut/
  44. ^ http://www.salzburg.com/nachrichten/welt/kultur/sn/artikel/elfjaehrige-komponierte-oper-jubel-um-cinderella-in-wien-228209/
  45. ^ "Announcement on Opera San Jose's website". Archived from the original on 16 July 2018. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  46. ^ "Packard Humanities Institute Announcement". Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  47. ^ "Announcement on Alma Deutscher's Website". Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  48. ^ "Sony Classical – Cinderella by Alma Deutscher". Retrieved 1 December 2018.
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External links[edit]

Further reading and video[edit]