This Spoleto debut has been long in the making. As a kid growing up in West Ashley, Micah McLaurin remembers his dad’s stories about Spoleto’s Bank of America Chamber Music series, for which he volunteered. Micah started playing piano at age 8, about the same time he first experienced the daytime concerts, which were then hosted by Charles Wadsworth. Turns out, McLaurin was a natural—and it wasn’t long before he was performing himself during Piccolo Spoleto concerts.
Fast forward more than a decade, two degrees from Curtis and Juilliard, and more than 103,000 Instagram fans later, and McLaurin’s career is about to come full circle. On June 9, all of Charleston’s eyes and ears will be tuned to McLaurin’s featured performance of Edvard Grieg’s piano concerto, backed by the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra and conducted by another Charleston son, Jonathon Heyward. In anticipation of the “great homecoming,” we caught up with McLaurin to chat about Charleston and his bustling career.
While we know you grew up in Charleston, you now live in New York and have a busy touring schedule that takes you all over the world. Do you return home often?
I was back in Charleston in September. But before that, and especially because of COVID, I haven’t been back much in the last few years.
Tell me about the Grieg piano concerto that you’ll perform.
I love this piece. It’s really dramatic. And there are a lot of arpeggios and really dramatic cadenzas, so as a pianist, I get to do lots of fun stuff. And while it’s fun to play, it’s also easy to listen to. It’s very beautiful with some dance-y rhythms—a very accessible piece that anyone can enjoy.
You’re around the same age as conductor Jonathon Heyward, another Charlestonian who will be conducting your Spoleto concert. Have you played with him before?
No. The two of us were originally slated to perform together during Spoleto’s 2020 season—though of course that was cancelled. I do however, remember Jonathon and his brother from Boy Scouts a long time ago. We were in the same troupe.
You have a massive following on social media platforms like Instagram, where you share so much of your work. What sparked your use of the platform in such a way?
Before COVID, I wasn’t really focused on social media, and in the classical world, it’s not as prominent. Arts organizations don’t take it into consideration for gigs, regardless of a follower count. But when COVID hit, gigs were being cancelled and I had a lot of…time. So my social media use really started during lockdown. My partner helped me build the page—we made use of what we had: the piano and my outfits. We purchased some lights and started posting regularly. It snowballed from there.
A recent project of yours is called Madonna Medley. How did that start?
I’d been feeling that I didn’t have a personal voice in classical music. During COVID, I started exploring my own creativity in music and started arranging pop songs for piano. I loved it. It felt great to put my own spin on things, make new versions, and play outside of what’s in the score. When I was in London, I started working with a producer Nick Patrick, and instead of playing a straight Chopin Etude, I added in a song by Madonna. I had created a similar video that combined Rhapsody in Blue with a medley of Lady Gaga songs. That idea actually spawned from Lady Gaga, when she played “Paparazzi” on a radio show and opened with a classical intro. I thought it was genius.
Talk to us about your fashion.
I do have a stylist and work with designers. Zaldy has actually made a number of the pieces that I’m wearing in the videos. I just get captivated by some pieces of clothing or costumes—the same way I do about music. I choose what I’m drawn to and what I feel good in. And because these are performances, I want to add a kind of fantasy. You’re not just walking into a museum or another stiff environment. I don’t want my performances to feel like the everyday.
What’s keeping you busy these days?
I’m working on two upcoming albums and just finished recording in London. The first album features eight arrangements for piano–and I’m playing with the Royal Philharmonic. Each track is a standard such as “Moon River,” “Over the Rainbow,” or “Can’t Help Falling in Love”–all songs that are connected my story. For example, “Can’t Help Falling in Love” was the first song I ever performed. I’m releasing singles from this album each month with the full album following. I’m also working on an album of pop songs, on which I’m also singing. So plenty of music coming out.