Don’t be surprised if you hear the enchanting tinkling of keys when walking down the block in Port Richmond. It’s Sandrine Erdely-Sayo, the piano virtuoso next door.
You might never know that behind the nondescript façade of just another Port Richmond row home is a kind of mini-France, complete with walls of masterful artwork, the Eiffel Tower, and the sounds of classical composition.
There, with melodies filling the street when warm weather allows for a propped-open door, lives the French-American pianist and composer Sandrine Erdely-Sayo. The Eiffel Tower in her house, a replica of her native country, is in the form of a tiny figurine, but the artwork that hangs on her walls is her own creation, as is her most powerful creation — music.
Erdely-Sayo’s accolades and credentials as a pianist are many. She began studying piano at age four under Michèle Puig, the goddaughter of preeminent cellist Pablo Casals, and said she could read music before she could read books. She won first place in Paris’ Bellan Competition at age 10, and became the youngest recipient of the French Ministry of Culture Prize at 13. She’s gone on to perform and win awards in Italy, Spain and Argentina.
All the while, she said her mother, who now lives with her in Port Richmond, was her champion.
“You need the right mother to support you, the sensitivity of the artist,” she said. “People say, ‘Oh, you’re oversensitive.’ But you cannot be a robot and play Chopin.”
Erdely-Sayo also teaches at the Temple University Music Preparatory school, and at The Lawrenceville School in New Jersey.
This summer, she will perform at Swarthmore College in July, and at an August festival in Richmond, Va. In March 2014, she’ll play at Carnegie Hall in New York.
In October last year, she finished her most recent recorded work, “Platero Y Yo,” a recording of music and narration inspired by and based on the book of the same name by Juan Ramón Jiménez.
For the recording, Erdely-Sayo composed and plays the music, and Elizabeth Peña narrates. The goal of the recording, she said, is “to create a fusion between music and literature, to expose literature through music and music through literature.”
Erdely-Sayo was born in the south of France and moved to Port Richmond in 2007, after she lived elsewhere in the city. She first came to the United States in 1990 to study with Susan Starr at the University of the Arts. Her bright and exquisitely decorated Almond Street home was the right choice for her for a couple reasons: the house had, she said, a “good energy,” and, it was one of the only places where she could get her two pianos through the door.
The street names in Port Richmond, she said, were also a sign that the neighborhood was a perfect fit.
“I had a friend named Dr. Salmon, who told me, ‘If I die, there is always something that will connect us,’” she said. Sure enough, when she was checking out the neighborhood, she saw the sign for nearby Salmon Street. She was also preparing for a piece at the time called, “The Almond Trees.”
“It fits,” she said she thought at that moment.
Her home is also close by Powers Park, and it’s a touch of nature she said she needs in order to feel inspired as an artist. The most inspiring place she’s ever been, she said, is Sedona, Ariz., and shelves in her home are filled with little pieces of rock and quartz from Sedona.
She said she loves to eat at the Mercer Café and Hinge Café in the neighborhood, and appreciates Philadelphia because it connects her in many ways to Paris.
“The City Hall in Philadelphia is like the City Hall in Paris,” she said. “The [Benjamin Franklin] Parkway, with all the flags, it’s like the Champs-Élysées. The Rodin Museum also…a lot of places [in Philadelphia] are like Paris.”
In the little free time she has, Erdely-Sayo said she likes to play golf, and compares it to piano playing.
“The way you attack a note, the precision in the attack, it’s the same in golf. You have to have precision in golf, it’s the same with piano.”
She also is an avid reader and writer, and speaks not only French and English, but Spanish and some Hebrew.
In Port Richmond, Erdely-Sayo said her neighbors are friendly, talkative people who look after each other. Her next-door neighbors, she said, have never complained about her music, which she sometimes practices up to six hours per day.
“If they don’t hear me for a while, people say, ‘Why didn’t you practice?’” she said. “Once, people saw my shades were down for a few days, and came by to ask if I was okay.”
Whatever Erdely-Sayo is up to, you can count on the fact that as long as she’s living on Almond Street, her open door and windows will provide the street’s stirring soundtrack.
“When I can’t connect with my music, it’s like I’m sick,” she said. “Human beings need a brain, and heart and lungs to live. I need music to breathe.”
Managing Editor Mikala Jamison can be reached at 215-354-3113 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.