Sean Chen delves into Ravel and Scriabin on “La Valse,” his debut album for Steinway & Sons

2013 Winner of the American Pianists Association’s DeHaan Classical Fellowship, Sean Chen, has his debut album on the Steinway & Sons label. La Valse was recorded as part of Chen’s substantial APA prize package, and was released digitally on March 4 and physically on March 25.

Described as an “American shooting star” blessed with “outstanding stage presence combined with an extraordinary technique and musicianship” (Theater Jones), pianist Sean Chen’s La Valse celebrates the music of two important early modern composers, Maurice Ravel and Alexander Scriabin.

Featured works include Scriabin’s Valse in A-­flat Major (1903), Piano Sonata No.4 in F-­sharp Major (1903), and Piano Sonata No.5 (1907); and Ravel’s Menuet antique (1895), Valses nobles et sentimentales (1911), Menuet sur le nom d’Haydn (1909), and Prélude (1913). With one exception, all the pieces on the album were composed after 1895 and before the beginning of World War I. The tensions between old classical forms and the progressive harmonies of the modern era are evident throughout. The last track on the album is Chen’s own transcription of Ravel’s La Valse, originally composed in 1919-­20. La Valse, originally meant to be a ballet, was published as an orchestral poème chorégraphique instead. Ravel also prepared versions for solo piano and for two pianos. Chen’s transcription draws on all of Ravel’s different scores.

This album, Chen’s first for Steinway & Sons, was recorded as part of Chen’s award package as the winner of the American Pianist Association’s DeHaan Classical Fellowship. Joel Harrison, President/CEO and Artistic Director of the APA, describes Chen as “one of the most dynamic and engaging artists of his generation.” 2013 was a landmark year for Chen: in addition to the APA Fellowship, he also took third prize at the 2013 Cliburn competition. Highlights of Chen’s 2013-­2014 season include return engagements with the Indianapolis and Fort Worth Symphony Orchestras, and performances at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and Jordan Hall in Boston.

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Pianist Sean Chen is being hailed as a rising star with a “million-­volt smile” and a “formidable set of fingers” (Dallas Morning News). In 2013 Chen won the American Pianists Association’s DeHaan Classical Fellowship, one of the most lucrative and significant prizes availableto an American pianist; he also won Third Prize at the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, becoming the first American to reach the finals since 1997. He received Second

Prize at the 2011 Seoul International Music Competition, Third Prize at the 2013 Morocco Philharmony International Piano Competition, Best Performance of an American Work at the 2009 Cleveland International Piano Competition, and he was a semifinalist at the 2012 Leeds International Piano Competition.

The 25-­year-­old American pianist has appeared as soloist with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra under Gerard Schwarz, Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra under Leonard Slatkin, Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, Suwon City Philharmonic, New West Symphony, and the Juilliard Orchestra. Highlights of his 2013–14 season include return invitations with Indianapolis and Fort Worth, performances at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and Jordan Hall in Boston, and recital and concerto appearances across the United States and Europe. He has performed new works by Lisa Bielawa, Michael Williams, Nicco Athens, Michael Gilbertson, and Reinaldo Moya, among others. His CD releases include an album of Michael Williams’s solo piano works on the Parma label, a recording from the Cliburn competition on Harmonia Mundi, and this solo recording on the Steinway label as part of his American Pianists Association prize.

Born in 1988 in Margate, FL, Chen grew up in the Los Angeles area of Oak Park, CA. His impressive achievements before college included receiving an NFAA ARTSweek award, a prize at the California International Young Artist Competition, the Los Angeles Music Center’s Spotlight Award, the Evelyn Vonar Storrs Scholarship, and the Glenn Miller Scholarship. These honors combined with his extraordinary intellect facilitated offers of acceptance by MIT, Harvard, and the Juilliard School; choosing to study music, Chen earned his Bachelor's and Master's degrees at Juilliard, where he won the 2010 Gina Bachauer Piano Competition, the 2010 Munz Scholarship, and first prize at the 2008 Juilliard Concerto Competition. While attending Juilliard, Chen was the recipient of a notable third-­party scholarship: the 2010 Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans.

Chen is currently pursuing his Artist Diploma at the Yale School of Music as a George W. Miles Fellowship recipient. He is studying with Hung-­Kuan Chen and Tema Blackstone, and his former teachers include Jerome Lowenthal, Matti Raekallio, and Edward Francis. Chen’s performances have been broadcast on From the Top, American Public Media’s Performance Today, WQXR (New York), WGBH (Boston), and WFYI (Indianapolis). The American Pianists Association webcast of his April 2013 performance of Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Indianapolis Symphony – which, according to International Piano, “blazed with color and excitement” – can be viewed at AmericanPianists.org.

When not at the piano, Chen enjoys tinkering with computers and composing. In the coming seasons, he will be performing under the management of the American Pianists Association, touring the U.S. and presenting recitals worldwide.

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