Spectacular Virtuosity & Eloquent Storytelling – Pianist Sean Chen

In a magnificent performance for Allegheny Riverstone Center for the Arts, the phenomenal Van Cliburn bronze medalist Pianist SEAN CHEN, dazzled the sold out audience in Foxburg’s Lincoln Hall on Sunday, July 30, 2023 with his virtuosity and eloquent story telling!

Legendary keyboard geniuses of earlier generations took audiences on an inner journey revealing the composer’s poetic intent – as lyrically evocative emotional and musical meaning eclipsed technical virtuosity and bravura.

On Sunday, young pianist SEAN CHEN claimed that tradition as poet and weaver of musical tales.  The eloquently-contoured, opening lines of the first Schubert Impromptu were exquisite, as if beginning a story with hushed tones to draw in the listener. The Impromptus themselves ran the gamut of the emotional spectrum with sparkling clarity in Sean’s dazzling, easy facility. The seamlessly improvised interludes between the four Impromptus were elegant flights of musical fancy, enhancing Schubert’s creations (as inspired by his teacher Jerome Lowenthal). His delightful program commentary with rich personal insights charmed the audience.

His first standing ovation came before intermission, after his rhapsodic performance of Rachmaninoff’s arrangement of Fritz Kreisler’s “Liebesleid und Liebesfreud”. Many were in tears. His Schumann “Arabeske” was tender and passionate, attesting to his reviews of “breathtaking sensitivity”.

Finally, the performance of his own arrangement of the fourth movement finale of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was monumental – with textures and voicings that evoked the full orchestra and satisfied without comparison. The subtly shaped unaccompanied melody of the bass soloist – “O Freunde” – soared with a vocalism and uncanny resonance that seemed to carry the text – inspiring hope and joy. This is a colossal, “monster” arrangement and his pianism was astounding! The audience roared and lept to its feet in a long standing ovation – a love-fest between artist and audience made more special by the intimacy of Lincoln Hall.

After the concert, Sean greeted the audience at the Red Brick Gallery opening reception for the exhibit of “Consciousness Reflected”.

The exhibit in the Upstairs Gallery drew a hundred people to view the luminescent portraits and abstracts of painter Jannick Wildberg and the evocative, mythical photographic constructions of ARCA Board member and RBG Cooperative Artist, photographer Dennis Keyes.

After the exhibit, Sean performed again for a small gathering in the barn of StoneRidge, the home of ARCA’s founder Board President, Dr. Arthur Steffee and his wife, Marybeth Hinds Steffee.

Sean delighted the small gathering of ARCA members and donors with an encore performance including his arrangement of Mozart’s Overture to the Marriage of Figaro, a Debussy prelude and the Rachmaninoff arrangement of Fritz Kreisler’s “Liebesleid und Liebefreud”.

The charming and down-to-earth Sean ended his evening listening to the stories of those gathered while enjoying a delicious meal catered by Zack’s in New Bethlehem with desserts from The Crow’s Cupboard in Parker – after which Dr. Steffee compared how extraordinary food and music both feed the soul.

Gratitude to ARCA Board members Dan and Karen Mortland for their very generous sponsorship gift, underwriting Sean’s debut performance at the Lincoln Hall Steinway.

Thank you, Sean Chen! We await his return to Foxburg and Lincoln Hall – when piano lovers in the region will not want to miss basking in his musical imagination. www.alleghenyriverstone.org


About Sean Chen & His ARCA Program

“After my living a long life with the Rachmaninoff 3rd, it took this youthful musician to show me
the most imaginative and compelling performance of the work I have ever heard.
His lyrical approach throughout did not rule out heights of passion of enormous proportion.
His colors were limitless. The cadenza in the first movement was a revelation. The inner voices brought new light to structures. One could go on and on. Watch this award-winning performer.”
Henry Upper, The Republic 

From the fiery pyrotechnics of Rachmaninoff to the delicate filigree of Nikolai Medtner, critics have been unanimous:  “Los Angeles native Sean Chen has the rare ability to combine poetic musical sensibilities and dazzling technical prowess... coaxing subtle and surprising colors and textures from each work.”
— Paula Edelstein, LA Music Examiner (April 23, 2014)

The reviews have been superlative and unequaled in the biggest virtuosic repertoire:  “… he delivered the most original and likely the best live performance I have ever experienced among the many such performances I have heard in my professional life.
(Brahms Piano Concerto #2).” (The Republic)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GvKQKnIVy1I

Chantal Incandela of Nuvo wrote, “There aren’t enough superlatives for this young man. Moments of bold intensity gave way to those of a gentle tenderness that was breathtaking at times…”

American conductor, Gerard Schwarz, who guest conducted Chen with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra said, “The Bartók Concerto No. 2 that he played in the finals was stupendous. He brought this piece to life in a totally convincing way, and for me it was the best performance of this concerto that I have ever heard.”

A multifaceted musician, Sean. Chen also transcribes, composes, and improvises. He recently premiered his composition, Daydream No. 1 – Steps, commissioned as a gift for the retirement of American Pianists Association’s President/CEO. His transcriptions of such orchestral works as Ravel’s La Valse, Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, and the Adagio from Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2, have been received with glowing acclaim and enthusiasm, and his encore improvisations are lauded as “genuinely brilliant” (Dallas Morning News).

In his dazzling program for the July 30 concert in Lincoln Hall, Sean performed works by Schubert and Kreisler/Rachmaninoff, but also improvised interludes between the Schubert Impromptus and dazzled the audience with his arrangement of the triumphant Finale.Presto to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

4 Impromptus, Op. 90,
with improvised interludes              Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

1- Impromptu in C minor

2- Impromptu in E♭ major

3- Impromptu in G♭ major

4- Impromptu in A♭ major

Liebesleid & Liebesfreud                                                              Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962)
Arr. by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

— intermission –

Arabeske in C Major, Op. 18                                                        Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125                                        Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
IV. Finale. Presto                                                                               Arr. by Sean Chen (b. 1988)

A “thoughtful musician well beyond his years” (The Republic), pianist Sean Chen shares his “alluring, colorfully shaded renditions” (New York Times) and “genuinely sensitive” (LA Times) playing with audiences around the world in solo and chamber recitals, concerto performances, and masterclasses. After winning the 2013 American Pianists Awards, winning the Bronze at the 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, and being named a 2015 Annenberg Fellow, Mr. Chen is now a Millsap Artist in Residence at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory.

Mr. Chen has performed with many prominent orchestras, including the Fort Worth, Indianapolis, Kansas City, San Diego, Knoxville, Hartford, Louisiana Philharmonic, Milwaukee, North Carolina, Pasadena, Phoenix, Santa Fe, and New West Symphony Orchestras, as well as the Chamber Orchestras of Philadelphia, Indianapolis, and South Bay. He has collaborated with such esteemed conductors as Leonard Slatkin, Michael Stern, Gerard Schwarz, Nicholas McGegan, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Marcelo Lehninger, and James Judd. Solo recitals have brought him to major venues worldwide, including Jordan Hall in Boston, Subculture in New York City, the American Art Museum at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., the National Concert Hall in Taipei, Het Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, and the Salle Cortot in Paris.

Mr. Chen has served on the juries of notable piano competitions, including the American Pianists Awards, Thailand International Piano Competition, West Virginia International Piano Competition, Cleveland International Piano Competition for Young Artists, and Steinway competitions around the country. Given his natural inclination for teaching and approachable personality, Mr. Chen is particularly in demand for residencies that combine performances with master classes, school concerts, and artist conversations, which have brought him to such institutions as the Cleveland Institute of Music, Indiana University, University of British Columbia, University of Houston Moores School, Spotlight Awards at the Los Angeles Music Center, Young Artist World Piano Festival, and several Music Teachers’ Associations throughout the country.

Mr. Chen has been featured in both live and recorded performances on radio – WQXR (New York), WFMT (Chicago), WGBH (Boston), WFYI (Indianapolis), KCUR (Kansas City), KPR (Kansas), NPR’s From the Top, and American Public Media’s Performance Today. Additional media coverage includes a profile featured on the cover of Clavier Companion in May 2015, recognition as “One to Watch” by International Piano Magazine in March 2014, and inclusion in WFMT’s “30 Under 30.”

His CD releases include the 2021 all-Ravel digital album on the Steinway & Sons label, featuring Sonatineand Le Tombeau de Couperin; La Valse, another solo recording on the Steinway label, featuring Mr. Chen’s own arrangement of La Valse and hailed for “penetrating artistic intellect” (Audiophile Audition); a live recording from the Cliburn Competition released by harmonia mundi, praised for his “ravishing tone and cogently contoured lines” (Gramophone); an album of Michael Williams’s solo piano works on the Parma label; and an album of Flute, Oboe, and Piano repertoire titled KaleidosCoping with colleagues Michael Gordon and Celeste Johnson. Mr. Chen has also contributed to the catalog of Steinway’s new Spirio system.

A multifaceted musician, Mr. Chen also transcribes, composes, and improvises. He recently premiered his composition, Daydream No. 1 – Steps, commissioned as a gift for the retirement of American Pianists Association’s President/CEO. His transcriptions of such orchestral works as Ravel’s La Valse, Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, and the Adagio from Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2, have been received with glowing acclaim and enthusiasm, and his encore improvisations are lauded as “genuinely brilliant” (Dallas Morning News). His Prelude in F# was commissioned by fellow pianist Eric Zuber, and subsequently performed in New York. An advocate of new music, he has also collaborated with several composers and performed their works, including Lisa Bielawa, Jennifer Higdon, Michael Williams, Nicco Athens, Michael Gilbertson, and Reinaldo Moya.

Born in Florida, Mr. Chen grew up in the Los Angeles area of Oak Park, California. His impressive achievements before college include the NFAA ARTSweek, Los Angeles Music Center’s Spotlight, and 2006 Presidential Scholars awards. These honors combined with diligent schoolwork facilitated offers of acceptance by MIT, Harvard, and The Juilliard School. Choosing to study music, Mr. Chen earned his Bachelor and Master of Music from Juilliard, meanwhile garnering several awards, most notably the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans. He received his Artist Diploma in 2014 at the Yale School of Music as a George W. Miles Fellow. His teachers include Hung-Kuan Chen, Edward Francis, Jerome Lowenthal, and Matti Raekallio.

Mr. Chen resides in the suburbs of Kansas City with his wife, Betty, a violinist in the Kansas City Symphony, and their daughters Ella and Maeve. When not at the piano, Mr. Chen enjoys tinkering with computers, and exploring math, science, and programming. Mr. Chen is a Steinway Artist and is managed by Jonathan Wentworth Associates, Ltd.