Deutscher’s father Guy is an Israeli-born linguist, and her mother Janie (who is lunching just around the corner, out of earshot) is a scholar of medieval English literature, but they are keen musicians, and they encouraged both their daughters at an early age.
Deutscher was already playing the piano at the age of two, at three she received a small violin as a birthday present, and by four she was experimenting with her own melodies. “My parents thought I was just playing something that I’d heard and not quite remembered, because they didn’t recognise it, but I said ‘No, no, no, it’s my own composition.’ ” Before long she was writing sketches and short pieces.
“When I was quite a lot younger I was on Skype with my grandmother in Israel and suddenly in the middle her Nokia went off,” she sings the famous jingle, “and she had a long conversation and I was quite annoyed, so I thought I would make a joke and [afterwards] I wrote a whole different piece of it, with a different harmony.”
Since then, Deutscher has continued her interest in the piano and violin (she is currently playing a priceless Guarneri del Gesù instrument on loan) and has composed a piano concerto (lyrical, late Romantic in flavour), a violin concerto (redolent of Johann Strauss, with a virtuosic solo part), and a symphonic piece titled “Dance of the Solent Mermaids”. And, not content with Mozart’s cadenza for his Piano Concerto K 246, “because he’d written it when he was very young, so it just stayed in the same key all the time”, she has found time to pen her own.
“To get the melodies for me is actually extremely easy, that’s the nice part that comes to me when I’m not concentrating, when I’m skipping outside, when I’m falling asleep or just waking up, or while I’m improvising at the piano, when I feel that melodies are going to burst out of my fingertips and I have to hold them in,” she says. “And then the hard work is sitting down and developing it, deciding what will come after the melody, how to link passages and how to make everything fit to make it a coherent structure. That’s extremely difficult, that’s when I often get quite tired, and when I need to go to Antonin Yellowsink and ask for his advice.”
I sense another difficult aspect of life as a prodigy, one that the family as a whole have to manage, is the pressure of exposure and expectation. There are plenty of child stars who have gone on to enjoy long and successful careers, including the composer Erich Korngold, the conductor Daniel Barenboim, and the violinist Sarah Chang; there are plenty more who have simply burnt out and bitten the dust. Deutscher is well represented across social media platforms, and is clearly not shy of the press, but she seems sheltered from the day-to-day business of promotion.
Both Deutscher and her younger sister Helen (who is herself an accomplished musician) are homeschooled. “I think that I learn at home in one hour what it would take at school five hours to learn,” she says. Private music lessons are taken with teachers from the nearby Yehudi Menuhin School (an academy for musically gifted children) and most other subjects are taught by their parents: she is currently reading The Odyssey with her mother, and working to improve her German.
She enjoys wholesome pastimes — playing with her sister in their treehouse, where they have a “dryad school”, and meeting up with friends from a local homeschooling network for swimming and ballet — and she is proudly out of step with the iGeneration. “Lots of children spend all the time on video games, I don’t like that at all. I don’t have a phone or computer or anything, I just read a lot,” she says, listing Philippa Pearce, Joan Aiken and Shannon Hale as some of her favourite authors. “I don’t really know what they do — Minecraft or whatever — some of my friends do that but I think it’s a complete waste of time and it ruins your brain as well because you can’t imagine anything for yourself.”
The waitress returns with the pudding menu. “I have special authority from my parents, and I’m allowed to have an extra one, so a normal dessert and some ice cream,” Deutscher says, and she puts in a precise request for the warm apple tart and a scoop each of raspberry and chocolate ice cream, served separately.
I ask about upcoming projects. “I’m going to compose a musical,” she says, “I’ve got lots and lots of melodies that sound that they should be in a musical, they’re just that kind of atmosphere, and I haven’t decided on a story, but that’s my next step after Cinderella.” While not a fan of jazz or pop (“too loud for me”) Deutscher loves The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady and West Side Story.
Then there’s the novel she’s started writing: “[It’s] called Malvina, and I want to publish it and turn it into a film and write the music for it. I’m not going to give too much away, all I’ll say is I already have the music for one bit of it, which is where there are these ghosts called the Gerril Ghosts, and they suck the time out of people’s lives, and out of the world, and they have a wild hunt on skeleton horses to terrify people in the moonlight at midnight,” she says, relishing the ghoulish details.
Our puddings arrive and Deutscher’s face falls. There’s been some confusion — the ice cream turns out to be a chocolate-raspberry blend; she insists it’s not a problem but the waitress returns with a consolatory scoop of strawberry. I ask if she enjoys cooking at home as I tackle a rather solid lemon tart. “I love cooking,” she says, “sometimes I dress up as a cook... I call myself Marigold and I have a blonde wig, and I put on an apron, and I come in with a funny accent,” she laughs. And what dishes do you prepare? “Cheese soufflé... It’s simpler than it looks.”
Who knows whether Deutscher will go on to find popular or critical success. Perhaps she will follow in the footsteps of Korngold, whose ballet Der Schneemann, written at the age of 11, dazzled audiences at its Vienna premiere in 1910, and who went on to enjoy both. She remains open-minded. “I want Cinderella to be performed in the Met and the Royal Opera House and La Scala, and all the big opera houses in the world, and I want all the most amazing violinists and pianists in the world to play my violin concerto and my piano concerto,” she says, beaming. “I also want people to listen to beautiful music. I want people to think it’s not a crime to write beautiful music.”
Lunch over, I accompany Deutscher and her mother back to their house, where, under a watchful portrait of Mozart’s talented sister Nannerl, she performs the lively cadenza from her own piano concerto. And I marvel at her transformation from kind to wunderkind — then back again, as I extend my hand in farewell and she launches into a hug.