Next up at The Gilmore Rising Stars Series: jazz pianist Esteban Castro

October 2, 2023

The Gilmore’s 2023 Rising Stars Series welcomes jazz artist Esteban Castro on Sunday, October 8, for a 4 pm performance at Kalamazoo’s Wellspring Theater.   

Castro performs with his own band and as a sideman, even though he is a senior at The Juilliard School. He will be joined onstage by bassist Gervis Myles and drummer Eliza Salem in a performance sponsored by the John Stites Artist Awards. Castro will also play a free Baby Grands family concert (solo) on Saturday, October 7, 12 p.m. at the Willard Library, 7 W. Van Buren, Battle Creek. 

“Esteban came to my attention through his performances at the American Pianists Association jazz division competition in Indianapolis,” says Gilmore Executive and Artistic Director Pierre van der Westhuizen. “His technique is jaw-dropping, and his fresh take on the idiom earned him a top spot as a finalist. He is considered a prodigy in the jazz world, which is even more rare than in the classical world.” 

Castro started playing the piano at age 4, and quickly found himself improvising soon after. At age 13, Esteban was the youngest-ever first prize winner in the Montreux Jazz Piano Solo Competition in 2016. At 14, he was the youngest first prize recipient at the 2017 Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition. He shared with us a little about his busy summer, spent traveling and playing all over the world. 

“I had the pleasure of playing in Honk Kong, Indonesia, Singapore, Australia, and closer to home, the Bahamas, the Bay Area, and Cape Cod,” he says, adding future travel will take him back to the Bahamas and to Mexico but he’s most looking forward to playing in Kalamazoo on October 8 for his Gilmore debut performance. 

“I did get a little fun trip to Disney World with some of my friends. It was nice to travel without having to worry about work for a bit,” he says. We asked about how he balances school and performing, and he admitted it can be “tricky.”

“Juilliard allows us three weeks of absences, so I just have to figure out what I can make and what I can’t. If gigs are here in the city, they’re at night of course so I can usually make my classes.” 

Castro has played with and earned accolades from a cadre of top jazz players, and at venues including The Blue Note, The Montreux Jazz Festival, Birdland, Jazz Gallery, and Smalls Jazz Club. He was a finalist for the 2023 American Pianist Association Competition; won the Grand Bohemian Prize at the 2022 American Jazz Pianist Competition; and has garnered three ASCAP Foundation Young Jazz Composer Awards. 

Still to perform this fall in the Rising Stars Series are Ukrainian pianist Illia Ovcharenko, performing on Sunday, October 29, winner of the 2022 Honens International Piano Competition and the New York International Piano Competition; and Sean Mason on Sunday, December 3, another New York-based pianist and composer who began teaching himself piano at 13 and now balances his burgeoning professional career with studies at The Juilliard School.  

General admission Rising Stars Series tickets are on sale for $28, and livestream access is available with pay-what-you-choose pricing.  


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