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American Pianists’ Sean Chen wins Crystal at the Cliburn competition

Less than two months after winning the American Pianists Association’s 2013 Christel DeHaan Classical Fellowship, one of the most lucrative prizes available to an American pianist, Sean Chen has been awarded the third prize Crystal Award in the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. The 24-year-old was the only American to reach the finals, and the first to do so since 1997, when his fellow Californian Jon Nakamatsu took first prize. Chen’s $20,000 prize was announced at the award ceremony in Fort Worth on Sunday, following his final-round performances of Beethoven’s “Emperor” and Rachmaninoff’s third piano concertos with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra.
Chen’s artistry impressed not only the jurors but the press and public too. The Dallas Morning News admired his “formidable set of fingers” and “virtuosity aplenty.” Theater Jones noted, “Sean Chen has been an audience favorite from the early rounds. With his floppy hair and outstanding stage presence combined with an extraordinary technique and musicianship, this is little wonder. He already has some impressive wins in recent competitions and, as they say, nothing succeeds like success.”
The Cliburn comes on the heels of Chen’s American Pianists Association win on April 20. The APA’s prize, valued at more than $100,000, includes a $50,000 cash award, two years of career assistance and performances, and a recording on the Steinway & Sons label.  Over the course of the competition this past season, Chen was presented in a variety of public performances in Indianapolis: solo recitals, chamber music, new music, a song recital, and as soloist with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, and with a high school orchestra as part of his residency activities. Three separate panels of distinguished international judges were involved in the adjudication process.   
“The American Pianists Association’s unique competition format, where each Finalist is treated as a visiting Artist in Residence, gives them extraordinary professional experience over the course of an entire concert season,” stated President/CEO and Artistic Director Joel Harrison.  “And because we see and hear them over an extended period of time, we have the remarkable privilege to work with and witness them grow in artistic stature at an important time in their professional development. This process has been particularly rewarding in Sean Chen’s case, and all of us at APA congratulate Sean on his Cliburn win.” 
In addition to his American Pianists Association and Cliburn wins, Sean Chen was a semifinalist last fall at the 2012 Leeds International Piano Competition, took second prize at the 2011 Seoul International Music Competition, and won Best Performance of an American Work at the 2009 Cleveland International Piano Competition. He received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at the Juilliard School, where he won the 2010 Gina Bachauer Piano Competition. He is currently pursuing his Artist Diploma at the Yale School of Music as a student of Hung-Kuan Chen. His teachers have also included Jerome Lowenthal, Matti Raekallio, and teacher-mentor Edward Francis. Born in Margate, FL and raised in Oak Park, CA, Chen has performed with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, Juilliard Orchestra, New West Symphony, and Suwon Philharmonic, and has given solo recitals in many cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Indianapolis, Albuquerque, and Taipei.
Chen can be heard in an archived broadcast on WGBH/Classical New England’s “Drive Time Live,” which aired days after he was named the 2013 DeHaan Classical Fellow of the American Pianists Association.  The April 20 webcast of Chen’s APA Gala Finals performance, in Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Indianapolis Symphony, is available for viewing on YouTube and at
The New York Times has recognized the American Pianists Association for offering “profound early-career assistance” to world-class American classical and jazz pianists. Of the APA’s five Finalists in its 2013 classical competition, four applied to and were selected to compete in this year’s Cliburn competition, with Claire Huangci (“one of the most impressive performers in the first phase,” according to Dallas Morning News) advancing to the semifinals.  She received the Jury Discretionary Award. TheaterJones admired Eric Zuber’s “mastery of technique,” and for the Dallas Morning News, APA Finalist Sara Daneshpour’s elimination after the preliminary stage was “the REAL head-scratcher” of this year’s Cliburn competition.
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© 21C Media Group, June 2013

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