56. For a Star of Classical Piano, Languages Hold the Key

Andrew von Oyen is one of the only Americans in his field who brings bilingualism to the concert stage.

“You never dreamed, did you, that a piano could be made to express all that?”

That’s Marcel Proust, the early 20th-century French writer who penned In Search of Lost Time. How was he able to time-travel into the future and know how perfectly those words would describe the work of the classical pianist Andrew von Oeyen?

Despite the Old World surname, Andrew is the product of a Southern California upbringing who now has a home in Malibu. But that’s where any suggestion of laid-back SoCal stops. It’s worth a wager that this graduate of the famed Juilliard Conservatory has the only home in Malibu where the music of Beethoven, Bach, Debussy and many other classical composers is a constant counterpoint to the rumble of surf.

A language ‘premonition’

Andrew’s dedication to classical piano started young: at the tender age of 5. At 10, he had his solo orchestral debut. By the time he was 16, the age when many SoCal kids are learning how to drive, Andrew was playing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He now performs with symphony orchestras all over the world.

For almost as long as he’s been practicing piano, Andrew has been practicing another skill: speaking a second language. Now in his forties, Andrew speaks three: Spanish, German and French.

“Perhaps,” he muses, “I had the kind of premonition that language would be important for my future.”

Andrew will often address audiences in their native language, as he did when he performed in the Vienna Concert House, featured here and in the inset.


You’ll hear about his reasons for learning each of those languages in this episode, along with Andrew’s thoughts when asked if speaking another language influences his musicianship. Is there a connection? His answer might surprise you.

Listen on iTunes by clicking here: America the Bilingual by Steve Leveen on iTunes. Or on SoundCloud here.

Enjoy Episode 56, featuring Andrew von Oeyen in conversation with America the Bilingual founder Steve Leveen. Bonus: in the background, you’ll also hear Andrew in concert, as he performs the works of various composers. (See the playlist below.)

Then watch this short video of Andrew speaking to the audience en francais at the Royal Opera of Versailles.

Andrew’s playlist

Most of the music you hear in this episode is, of course, courtesy of Andrew at the piano. Here are the selections:

  • Ravel, Le Tombeau de Couperin 
  • Coda to Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
  • Leonard Bernstein’s “Age of Anxiety” performed with the Slovenian Philharmonic
  • Brahms, Intermezzo in A Major, Op. 118


Thanks to members of the America the Bilingual Project team for this episode: Fernando Hernández and his production house, Esto No Es Radio, which provides sound design and mixing; Mim Harrison, editorial director of the project, who also wrote and directed this episode; and Karla Hernandez at Daruma Tech, who manages our website.

In addition to Andrew’s piano performances, the music selection of “Quasi Motion” by Kevin MacLeod in this episode was used with a Creative Commons Attribution License. Beethoven’s “Sonata No. 20 in G Major, Op. 49 No. 2,” performed by Daniel Veesey, is in the public domain.

Meet the entire America the Bilingual team—including our bark-lingual mascot, Chet—here.

We welcome your comments here, on our new America the Bilingual Review page of Medium, and on Facebook.

Be sure to check out our Book page, and see why one grateful reader says of America’s Bilingual Century:

 “I’ve found the magic! Mr. Leveen has provided me with a new way to approach my study of an adopted second language.”

Enjoy the book in your favorite format. Click here.


2023-02-02T14:15:33-05:00By |Episodes|

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