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'Like Running 3 Marathons': Wisconsin Pianist To Perform 3 Rachmaninoff Concertos

Wael Farouk playing the piano
Bonnie North
Wael Farouk preparing for a 2018 concert where he played all five Beethoven piano concertos.

Pianist and director of the Carthage College piano program Wael Faroukis no stranger to a challenge.

When Farouk was two and a half years old his parents began to notice that he was having difficulties using his hands. That was because he was born with very short hand ligaments, which make it impossible to put his hand into a fist or complete tasks like buttoning his shirt or opening a jar.

Farouk also grew up in Cairo, Egypt as a Christian during a time when, he says, Christians were regularly arrested by the government for their beliefs.

For his third birthday, Farouk was given a toy piano by his father in hopes that playing would help his hands. He says very quickly the piano became “my best friend in the world.”

While studying to become a professional pianist, Farouk says the professors discouraged him from the career and told him that his hands would prevent him from ever being able to excel in the field.

“They really tried to make it difficult for me. In the first three months, they tried to give me the homework of two years … to really make their point,” he says.

Wael Farouk has not allowed his physical disabilities stop him from pursuing his career as a pianist.
Courtesy of Wael Farouk
Wael Farouk has not allowed his physical disabilities stop him from pursuing his career as a pianist.

Stubbornness and perseverance carried Farouk through his studies and into his career, when he was introduced to Rachmaninoff’s Concerto 3. Considered by musical experts to be one of the hardest compositions to play, Farouk immediately decided he had to master the 40-minute-long concerto.

“About four and a half years later, I was the first Egyptian to ever play [Rachmaninoff’s Concerto 3] in Cairo. So that was not only a milestone in my life but really because of that piece, I became a pianist,” he says.

Now, Farouk is preparing for an even bigger performance — playing Rachmaninoff’s Concertos 1, 2 and 3 in a single performance.

“This is like running three marathons, we’re only taking 10 minutes between each piece and saving the hardest one all the way until the end,” he explains.

Farouk will play for nearly two and a half hours all from memory, and while following COVID-19 protocols, which he says will add an extra layer of difficulty. The concert will be live streamed at 7:30 p.m. on April 17.

Farouk has decided to dedicate the three pieces to the fight against three major social injustices: oppression, persecution and discrimination.

Drawing from his faith, he believes that the hardship he has faced has taught him the resiliency he needs to succeed at such a challenging musical task.

“The more you have, the more you will go through, and obstacles and sufferings are not to label you who you are, they really provoke success and strength out of you,” he says.

Ben Binversie was a producer with WUWM's Lake Effect program.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.