"You see, I have this skipping rope, and I just wave it around, and I let my imagination go free," says Alma Deutscher, trying to explain the inexplicable. "Before this I would pick up sticks and wave them around, and some sticks were better than others but this was the best." She brings a purple plastic skipping rope out from under the table, and strokes the silver tinsel tassels at either end. It’s the sort of toy favoured by children in playgrounds everywhere but for Deutscher this rope is also a tool — a kind of divining rod — that aids and inspires a quite astonishing flow of creativity. As well as being a talented pianist and violinist, this little girl has already composed two concertos, a symphonic piece and a full-length opera — and she is 12 years old. We are seated in a corner of Café Rouge in Dorking, just south of London, a week before she flies out to San José to begin rehearsals for the US premiere of Cinderella, the opera she started composing at the age of eight. Th...

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