"I guess it was a good thing they did because it's the only thing I can do well," Pompa-Baldi said. By 11, he was attending regular day school and a government-run music conservatory. When he graduated at 18, though, he said his real music education began.
"Regardless of my political views - I am independent - I don't believe in socialized instruction," he said. "I only started learning after I graduated. I did not learn the basics of music making there. I would not have gone anywhere with my music if I had not taken the initiative of getting out of there."
In 1999, Pompa-Baldi came to Cleveland, Ohio, for an international piano competition. He was newly married and couldn't speak a word of English. Within two weeks, he realized he wanted to stay, and in 2001 he and his pianist wife, Emanuela Friscioni, made Cleveland their home.
They both teach at the Cleveland Institute of Music and perform, and their 7-year-old daughter is studying piano there.
He travels the world performing and is in Charleston this week for a guest spot with the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra Friday and Saturday, where he will play Edward Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor, which he counts among his "absolute favorite" pieces.
"I performed it in South Africa in August and I recorded it last May," he said.
Earlier this week, Pompa-Baldi arrived in town to rehearse and decide which of the Clay Center's two grand pianos he would use this weekend. When he leaves Charleston, it's on to the Dominican Republic, Hong Kong and Macau before returning to the United States for a concert in Winston-Salem, N.C.
"I would say I do guest concerts 25 or 30 times a year," he said. "And then add recitals on top of that."
Contact writer Monica Orosz at mon...@dailymail.com or 304-348-4830.