Steinway Artist Derek Han (1957-2021) was without a doubt among the leading American pianists of his generation. Though he was originally identified with the concertos of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven -- not least because he recorded them all to generally favorable critical response -- he possessed a vast repertory that included the concertos of Mendelssohn, Chopin, and MacDowell, as well as individual concertos by Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, and Shostakovich, in addition to a large body of solo and chamber works. Han's style was original though fairly straightforward in its lucid tones, spirited character, and technical fluidity and accuracy.
Han was born in Columbus, OH, on June 27, 1957, to Chinese parents. He was a precocious child, becoming proficient on the piano at an early age, and then graduated from Juilliard at 18. His most important teacher there was Ilona Kabos, but he studied under a string of even more prominent ones after graduating: Gina Bachauer, Lili Kraus, and Guido Agosti.
Han's breakthrough came in 1977 when he captured first prize at the Athens International Piano Competition. He thus experienced a meteoric rise in the late '70s and early '80s, appearing as soloist with various first- and second-tier European and American orchestras and as a recitalist and chamber player at an array of important concert locales. He began to appear regularly at the Marlboro Music Festival (at the behest of Rudolf Serkin) and at many major concert venues in the United States and Europe: New York, St. Louis, Buenos Aires, Berlin, London, Warsaw, Moscow, and elsewhere.
By the 1990s Han had become not only an important figure on the concert scene but a popular recording artist, as well, with most of his work, including the Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven complete concerto cycles, appearing on the Intersound Records label. In 1996 Han was invited to go on what would become a critically triumphant tour with the Sinfonia Varsovia to South Africa to celebrate the 80th birthday of Yehudi Menuhin, who led the orchestra for the series of concerts. As his musical career grew, Han also became involved in financial securities, heading his own investment company by 2005.
In the new century Han continued to grow in stature and expand his repertory. Among his later recordings was a pair of releases from 2006, the first containing the complete Brahms piano quartets on Brilliant Classics and the second the Rachmaninov Concertos No. 1 and No. 2, with conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, released on the RPO's own label.