While most seventh graders are busy composing book reports, Thomas Reeves has been up to something different. The 12-year old Reeves is a classical music composer. And not in an “isn’t-that-cute?” way; Reeves is playing with the big kids.
On Feb. 25, two movements of his Clarinet Quintet — the Fugue and Scherzo — written when he was just 9, will be performed by the Biava Quartet.
You may recognize the names of the other composers on the program: Haydn, Bartok and Mozart.
Thomas began playing piano at the age of 5 and within two years was composing original music. This may sound either presumptuous or precocious, but his first work was completing an unfinished piece by Shostakovich, his favorite composer.
“When he was very young he was fascinated by patterns — things like different types of air conditioners,” Martin Reeves, Thomas’s father, said. “He liked to observe changing traffic lights. As an extension, he started to copy, without understanding, piles of music. One day, we discovered he was actually composing, which was strange since he hadn’t had any formal music training. His interest in music is definitely through patterns.”
The Reeves’s put Thomas in piano classes, which eventually gave way to private lessons with a composition teacher.
“Music doesn’t run strong in the family,” said the elder Reeves. “My only gift to him was having a pile of old music in the house from when he was very small.”
That gift seems to have paid off. Thomas’s first string quartet premiered at Steinway Hall in Manhattan in 2004, and was also performed the following year on National Public Radio’s “From The Top” program.
In 2005, Thomas was awarded an American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) Morton Gould Young Composer Award, available to any composer under 30, for his “Sakura Variations,” and he received the prize for a second time in 2006 for his violin and piano duet, which debuted at the Austrian Cultural Forum.
The work of Thomas Reeves came to the attention of Wanda Fleck, director of the Brooklyn Friends of Chamber Music, in 2006 when she heard his piano and violin duet, the piece that won him the second ASCAP prize.
“His music is so interesting and so appealing,” she said. “I felt that it deserved to be played by really good musicians and it deserved to be presented to our audience.”
Thomas told GO Brooklyn that he’s thrilled that the BFCM chose his three-year-old piece to be performed by the Biava Quartet.
“I actually think it’s a good work,” he said. “But if I wrote it now, I would probably change it.”
“It’s going to a curious thing,” added his father, “because three years is half of his composing career. He still likes the piece, although he has moved on a lot since then in terms of using more modern tonality.”
Mary Persin, violist for the Biava Quartet, said the group felt “it was incredibly important…to bring to life” Thomas’s music.
“It was surprising and exciting to find out that one of the composers whose work we will be performing was so young,” she added.
Outside of composition, Thomas’s interests include mathematics. In 2006, he was the top-scoring student in his grade in the New York State Mathematics League competition.
Although he has years before he has to pick a career, Thomas is certain that he’ll stick with music.
Indeed, he has been commissioned by the Chesapeake Youth Symphony orchestra to compose a piano concerto that he will perform for them in March.
“I like creating a new work,” he said. “It’s a challenge, but I enjoy it. When I grow up, I might have this as a career, but if I don’t, I’ll definitely do it in my spare time.”
The Biava Quartet with Gilad Harel will perform at 3 pm on Feb. 25 at the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church (85 S. Oxford St. at Lafayette Avenue in Fort Greene). Tickets are $15 at the door, $10 in advance and $5 for students. For information call (718) 855-3053.