Patricio Molina was a Chilean prodigy before moving to New Jersey in his teens. He’s now attempting to be the first person at Rutgers to pursue a doctorate in both performance and composition.

Patricio Molina was famous before he knew it. When he was 3, he showed up to a TV studio with a pacifier and captivated a national audience, playing the piano with a fluency and poise that belied the sight of a tiny boy whose shiny black shoes didn’t reach the ground.

By 5, he had appeared on stage with Luciano Pavarotti. “Little Mozart,” one Chilean newspaper called him before he went on to perform for the king of Jordan and the president of Chile, and in venues in England, Syria, Germany and Italy.

He moved to Paterson with his mother when he was 13 to test himself among better students and better teachers. Short on money and speaking little English, his family relied on supermarket gift cards donated by a church, and the young pianist played at the Brownstone banquet hall to help pay the bills.

At 26, Molina has evolved from a child prodigy to a performer and composer of complex concert pieces. He is simultaneously pursuing two doctorates from Rutgers’ Mason Gross School of the Arts. He would be the school’s first music student to accomplish that feat.

Molina’s focus when he sits at the piano, whether it’s at Carnegie Hall or in his Woodland Park home, is complete. His fingers sweep the piano keys in fluid movements, the sounds emitted are purposeful and clear, and his head jerks up with emotion as he performs his own compositions — including a two-hour opera — which often are infused with Chilean rhythms.

“A rare talent,” said Robert Aldridge, a Grammy Award-winning professor at Rutgers who is advising Molina’s Ph.D. in music composition. “I could tell right away he was going places.”

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