SIOUX CITY | When Mackenzie Melemed performs with the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra on Saturday, it won't be the first time he has tread the boards here. He played the Ninth Iowa International Piano Competition in Sioux City earlier this year and got first prize.
Melemed will be the symphony guest artist at "Symphonie Fantastique: A Night of Taunts and Terrors," at the Orpheum Theatre. The show, beginning at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, will be a "spooky"-themed performance, with pieces by 19th century composers Franz Liszt, Modest Mussorgsky and Hector Berlioz.
The performance will be one more notch in the 22-year-old musician's belt, which already has a lot of notches. Melemed has played piano for audiences in rural villages in the Czech Republic, at shows and contests in Finland and China, at Carnegie Hall and even at the White House.
Talented from a young age, Melemed appeared on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" in 2001, and on the Discovery Channel show "Medical Mystery," playing a young Mozart.
Though his career took off quickly, it began pretty modestly.
"My grandfather bought me a keyboard when I was only 3, and my family noticed that I was taking to it, and playing it a lot," he said. "So I was enrolled in a beginner piano course -- it was supposed to be from when you're 4 to 6, so a two-year course -- and I completed it in less than half the time."
Before long, the little performer was entertaining crowds.
"I used to play at local nursing homes, when they had bingo, or when they were having an ice cream social or something like that, and I would play and eat with them and play bingo and have ice cream," he said.
Then the child piano star was on television and standing in the glow of the footlights.
Some of Melemed's stories make him seem a performer decades older, reflecting on a long career -- instead of a 22-year-old describing his career when he was in elementary school.
"I played Atlantic City, I headlined a show at the Tropicana Resort when I was 9," he said.
Besides traveling and giving performances, Melemed is a second-year master's degree student at the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City. Interestingly, his instructor at Juilliard hails from Iowa.
"My piano teacher, Robert McDonald, is originally from Council Bluffs," he said. "We're flying into Omaha, so maybe we'll go by. It'd be kind of fun to be where he grew up, in that area."