Say hi to Soheil (pronounced So-hail) Nasseri, a limpid-eyed, cleft-chinned classical pianist trying to make it in New York. His first name means “a star in the sky that appears infrequently.” “I think it may be Venus,” he said. He lives in a 187-square-foot, sparsely furnished studio without air-conditioning in the Tudor City section of midtown. On a typical day, he practices for about eight hours on his brown Steinway “five-three” (somewhere between a concert piano and a baby grand), a framed picture of Beethoven staring down at him. At 11 p.m. he pauses for dinner: a pre-cooked chicken from Gristede’s, perhaps, or a Caesar salad with bottled dressing. After that, he hits the clubs-and then, baby, watch out!
Mr. Nasseri, 23, was sitting in Cipriani downtown the other night, sipping his second Bellini and smelling of YSL Pour Homme cologne. He was dressed in the same loose-fitting white linen shirt and black pants that he’d worn for a concert at the Caramoor Festival in Katonah, N.Y., the day before, when he’d played to an adoring audience of mostly senior citizens. “This is Donna Karan,” he said, rubbing the shirt between his thumb and forefinger. “And when I put right on my program ‘Wardrobe courtesy of Donna Karan of New York,’ it says to people in my public: ‘This guy’s different from the average classical musician, who doesn’t care how they look.'”
The restaurant was filled with tanned, drunken Europeans screeching merrily to one another and whipping out cell phones at every opportunity. Mr. Nasseri, who was born to two Persian scientists (“The Blue Danube” was playing in his parents’ car on the way home from the hospital), regarded the crowd from his back table with a mixture of awe and amusement. “How seriously do I take it?” he said, meaning the carnival before him. “Not very seriously.”
When he arrived here three years ago he was lonely, and made penetrating the “scene” a priority almost on a par with playing the piano. “I need to clear my head after being alone all day,” he said. The odyssey for coolness began at McFadden’s, an Irish bar down the street from his apartment. “No one would talk to me,” he said. He bought the Zagat nightlife guide and bobbed helplessly against velvet ropes. Then he met someone in his building who knew a publicist-“Publicists have all the connections,” he said-and got a V.I.P. pass to Chaos. Boom . “At McFadden’s, anyone could come in, and therefore you might be Joe Stalker,” he said. “Then all of a sudden we go into a V.I.P. room, and it was like … it’s pretentious, but the fact that it’s selective makes everyone up there trust you a little more. That’s how I started meeting people right and left.”
Now he’s a regular at the Park, Halo-though “I haven’t been there in a while, since my friend Kareem sold out of the business,” he said-Bungalow 8 and Lotus. ” Everybody knows me at Lotus,” Mr. Nasseri said. After his concerts this fall, he’s planning after-parties at the Hudson Hotel-” celebrity -attended after-parties,” he added, with savor. Not content to play to the stuffy conservatory crowd, his ambition is to spread his love of classical music among the city’s night-crawlers, like a virus. “Last week, I’m having dinner with Damon Dash-he’s a rapper; he doesn’t know anything about classical music-and he’s like, ‘I’m trying to make it to your concert.’ And I said, ‘We’re having after-parties, too, at the Hudson Hotel!’ And he said, ‘Oh, I’m definitely going to be there for that.’ See, the fact that he’ll come to my after-party makes it 10 times more likely that he’ll come to my concert. Maybe he’ll come to the concert and have a profound, enlightening experience!”
He took a bite of his entrée, filet mignon with peppercorns. “Whoa, these are spicy!” he said.
Nightlife has had its disenchantments for Mr. Nasseri. In the beginning, he said, “I was like, ‘Oh, this is fantastic, this is great- wow , it’s so exciting.’ I saw Pauly Shore; I saw this celebrity, that celebrity. I was bumped from Mick Jagger’s table: ‘Excuse me, this table is for Mick Jagger!’ Last time I was here, Harvey Weinstein was sitting over there. That’s all wonderful. Then I realized that 90 percent of these people are full of shit.”
He invited many of the V.I.P. circle to his New York debut at the Liederkranz Foundation, and was heartbroken when “a very small percentage” showed up. “I was like, ‘These are not my friends,'” he said. He’s been making progress of a sort, though: Attendees at recent Weill Recital Hall dates include the fallen Morgan Stanley broker Christian Curry and the model Amy Lemons.
The young pianist said he won’t rest unless everyone on the planet eats, breathes and sleeps classical music and loves it as much as he does. (He also likes Billy Joel, Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson, Ice Cube and the Black Crowes.)
Asked who his idols were, he responded, “Arthur Rubenstein for his musicianship, and Liberace for his showmanship.
“The other day, someone who doesn’t know me referred to me as an ‘entertainer,’ and I snapped,” he said. “I said, ‘I’m not an entertainer-that’s a pejorative word. I’m an artist .’ I think the difference between an artist and an entertainer is, while you may be quote-unquote entertained with art, you’re also enlightened, which rarely happens with pure entertainment. Art, by definition, you must be enlightened for it to have successfully reached you. So you’re entertained and enlightened. But part of it is entertainment, and if you want people to come to your concerts and buy your CD’s and listen to classical music, let’s present it at least like it’s entertainment!”
A waiter came to steal a chair for the next table; a promoter from Lotus had arrived with his entourage. “Hey, how’s it going?” said Mr. Nasseri to the promoter. “Look, he knows everybody in here.” His eyes darted to the new neighbors, who which included a dark-haired beauty sitting with her shirt slashed to the navel. “Verr-ry interesting outfit.”
He’s dating a fashion stylist– slash–TV-commercial producer that he met at Lotus. She had only recently gone to one of his concerts, and one sensed the relationship is not all it could be. “I’m not even sure if she’s my girlfriend!” he said. “She’s somewhere between girlfriend and person you sleep with. But her voice is just like the perfect pitch for me. It’s such a vibe. I drop off to her voice … she’ll just talk into the phone.”
His eyes wandered back to the model’s cleavage. “I’d like to go out with her once , but I don’t see it working,” he said. “Women in this city want a lot of money. They find out I’m a pianist, great, and if I had money that would be excellent, I’d have everything made-but even women who adore classical piano and think that I’m the greatest thing on the planet will use their brain and say, ‘That guy over there is a multimillionaire, and he invited me to go to Italy on his private jet.’ There’s not a lot of classy women in this city. There are a lot who are caught up in this .”
The bill came. Mr. Nasseri pushed back his chair and applied some Chapstick.
“I need to get out of the house, because that’s the thing I do,” he said. “I’m the classical pianist who gets out of the house.”