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For the first time we have a Knowing Me, Knowing You alumni double-header — Pierre van der Westhuizen and Sophia Grobler met as fellow music students at the School of Music, marrying later and making their careers in the USA.

Instrument(s) / Discipline(s):
Pierre:   Piano
Sophia:   Piano and violin

Period of study at the NWU School of Music / PU for CHE Department of Music:
Both:   1997-2000.

Qualifications completed at the NWU / PU for CHE:
Both:   BMus

Qualifications completed elsewhere:
Both:   MMus, Youngstown State University & DMA, College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati

Notable professional achievements:
Pierre:   Debuted with the National Chamber Orchestra in 1998. Part of acclaimed Westhuizen Duo (with wife, Sophié), having performed in concert halls across USA, Europe, and South Africa. Highlights include Grahamstown National Arts Festival, Rome Festival (Italy), Dame Myra Hess Concert Series in Chicago, broadcast live on NPR and PBS Television.

Current professional position / occupation:
Pierre:   President and CEO of the Cleveland International Piano Competition.
Sophia:   Pianist, Teacher, Director of ArtsConnect at the Cleveland International Piano Competition — a community outreach program providing concerts in community centers and retirement facilities in Northeast Ohio.

Top 5 must-hear music:
1. Chopin — Complete Nocturnes, played by Arthur Rubinstein
2. Brahms — Piano Concerto No. 2: Krystian Zimerman with Vienna Philharmonic, Bernstein conducting
3. Schumann — Dichterliebe
4. Brahms — Symphony No. 3, 2nd movement
5. Brahms — Piano Trio in B major, Op. 8, played by the Potch Trio!
1. Chopin — Complete Nocturnes, played by Arthur Rubinstein
2. The Cleveland Orchestra (TCO) live any time, especially the big romantic symphonies — Mahler, Tchaikovksy; early 20th century like Stravinsky, Prokofiev…
3. Most recently, Brahms — Piano Concerto No. 1, with Yefim Bronfman and TCO.

Which personal music experiences are most memorable to you?
Pierre:   The first time I performed Bartok’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion. Some of the most exhilarating and terrifying moments of my life. On par with that, the first time I played with orchestra: Khachaturian’s Piano Concerto with the NCO of South Africa. Same thing: absolutely thrilling and scary at the same time. Then, as a listener: the first time I heard Emanuel Ax play Beethoven 4th piano concerto with The Cleveland Orchestra, as well as Mitsuko Uchida with Mozart’s concertos: I just remember tears in my eyes and goose bumps, all at the same time.
Sophia:   Any time I walk on stage with Pierre — there is just nothing like it — the ensemble is so natural it is like performing by myself, only better — much more fun!!

Pierre & Sophia van der Westhuizen

Top 5 must-read books:
1. Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
2. Harry Potter (all of them) by JK Rowling
3. Time Enough for Love by Robert A. Heinlein
4. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
5. Any Deon Meyer novel.
1. I enjoy autobiographies: Zubin Mehta — The Score of my Life
2. The World of Music according to Starker by cellist Janos Starker
3. When on vacation, I enjoy suspense novels — anything by Deon Meyer
4. I frankly wish I had more time to read!!

Favourite quote(s):
Pierre:   “If you want to make God smile, tell him your plans.”
Sophia:   “Practice makes permanent.”

Top 5 must-see movies:
1. Life is Beautiful
2. The Sound of Music
3. Love, Actually
4. The Shawshank Redemption
5. Richter: The Enigma
1. Bloody Daughter, a documentary on pianist Martha Argerich by her daughter, Stephanie
2. Wish I had more time for movies too! Last one I saw at the theatre was Cinderella with the kids … and Frozen … help!! 😉

Which television show(s) can you watch over and over again?
Pierre:   Frasier, How I met your mother
Sophia:   I enjoy old comedies like Frasier and The Vicar of Dibley.

Favourite food:
Pierre:   Bobotie, potjiekos.
Sophia:   Mediterranean.

Favourite drink(s):
Pierre:   Hoegaarden beer (Dutch).
Sophia:   Good red wine.

How do you relax?
Pierre:   A cold beer, good food and great company.
Sophia:   With good friends, good company and a good bottle of wine. For serious relaxing: Cape St Francis in the Eastern Cape at my parents’ beach house.

Children Jean-Pierre (6), Emma (4), Ian (15 months), and a baby boy due in July!

Which places would you still like to visit?
Pierre:   St Petersburg, Russia; Verbier, Switzerland (for the festival).
Sophia:   Far East (Korea, Japan, Vietnam …); US West Coast; Then I can always return to Europe again and again!

What are your funniest / fondest memories of your time at the Conservatory?
Pierre:   Funniest: the moment when Prof. Nel walked on stage in a baby diaper to sing with Ms. Nell on toy piano during one of the Potchpourri concerts. Fondest: My weekly lessons with Truida van der Walt, and taking practice breaks with Sophie and various other friends who would be passing by … just magical!
Sophia:   Late night practice sessions, knowing Pierre is suffering with me in his own practice room, as well as Douglas Bull’s bassoon sound coming from upstairs somewhere; Erica (Eloff) Malaprade, Maria Spies, followed by a rewarding glass of wine, listening to good music, talking into the late night/early morning hours. Visits at Die Akker. Talentfees.