Loss does not undermine the young king of clubs’ performance


The young pianist Heinrich Sutton, who this year as the o. 19‑ and was named overall winner of Atterbury’s national piano competition, believes that the loss he had to face in the midst of his participation made his fingers dance differently on the keys this year.

Claudine van Breda, a celebrated piano lecturer and Heinrich’s coach for the past six years, died two days before this year’s finals after a battle with cancer.

“It was terribly sad for me to lose her, but I feel it also helped me to be more in touch with the musicality of the pieces. One of the judges told me that you can only play like this if you have experienced tragedy, so my emotions really washed through me,” says the gr. Year 10 learner at Hoërskool Waterkloof to RNews.

Claudine, together with dr. Willie de Jager, established the Atterbury Piano Competition in 2011 after it came to their attention that there was no platform for young pianists to compete against each other on a national level.

There are three categories in which pianists participate: 12 years and under, 15 years and under and 19 years and under.

Heinrich walked away with the laurels in 2019 and 2021 respectively in the o. 12- and o. 15 categories. Being the senior and overall winner this year was one of his biggest personal goals and something he believes Claudine would be extremely proud of.

“She was very loving, like a grandmother figure, and not strict as one expects from music coaches. She was more like a life coach to me than just a piano coach.”

Thanks to his family’s influence, Heinrich has been a little clover king since childhood, with his father, Jacques in particular, who he says played a big role in planting the seed for it.

He started taking lessons at the age of five and made his stage debut at the age of seven as a guest performer at the Atterbury Theatre.

The youngster was previously also a piano player for the Johannesburg Youth Orchestra under the direction of Eddie Clayton.

Although he can strum the bass guitar, the piano remains Heinrich’s first love thanks to its versatility.

“Not everyone knows this, but there are a thousand different ways to get different sounds from one note. People think you just press the note and then a sound comes out, but there are actually so many factors to take into account. There’s more than meets the earit’s almost a science.”

When his fingers dance over the clovers, he disappears into his own world.

“It feels like you forget what’s going on around you and like no one can get close to you. One escapes.”

Of course, that level of musical talent requires quite a bit of sacrifice.

Sports that pose a great danger to hands, such as rugby or cricket, are out of the question. That’s why he swims to exercise the muscles.

Master classes and competitions also leave little time for a normal teenage social life. Then, of course, two to three hours of exercise must be incorporated every day, even on Sundays.

“Yes, that’s also down the drain to some extent,” teases Heinrich.

“I think I easily miss 80% of the things I’m invited to, but that’s my own choice. I don’t think people always realize the sacrifice music requires.”

If he is not in front of the piano, he is in front of his school books.

When asked if he is also performing well academically, the modest teenager answers shyly: “Yes, my average looks very good.”

This while he often ends up in the academic top-10 of his degree.

“Music will always be my biggest passion, but my academics are also important to me. I want to be an actuary one day, so I work hard.”

He also hopes to increasingly start competing in international music competitions.

Although his shelves are crowded with different trophies and awards, and he has collected a lot of prize money to date, since the age of ten it has been his biggest dream to win Atterbury’s national piano competition.

Now the busy teenager is focusing on setting the next big goal for himself.

“It is said that the top of one mountain is the bottom of another. I’m now looking for my next mountain,” he says excitedly.

Watch the teenager perform with the Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra here: