Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Meet the 2008 Semi-Finalists

Sejoon Park
17, Falls Church, VA

“I am a normal teenager who happens to be in love with music.... To feel the connection between myself and the audience is extremely rewarding"... something Sejoon Park tries to achieve everyday. When Sejoon is not performing or listening to piano music, he enjoys being with his friends, participating in athletics and listening to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart operas, Dimitri Shostakovich symphonies and Peter Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto. But when he was a young student in Seoul, Korea, he was not excited about taking piano lessons. Later on he experienced the joy of expressing himself at the piano and became “addicted to music.”

Sejoon was eleven when he moved to the United States to live with his aunt and to study at the Levin School of Music. When he arrived, he could not speak English. Today, he is an honor student and graduate of McLean High School. Next fall, Sejoon will attend the Peabody Conservatory of Music at Johns Hopkins University, where he will study with Boris Slutsky, Sejoon’s teacher for the past two years.

In 2007 Sejoon won first prize in the Aspen Music Festival Piano Concerto and performed Edward Grieg’s Piano Concerto with the Orchestra of the American Academy of Conducting at Aspen. In 2006 he won first Prize in the Southeastern Piano Concerto Competition and performed the Grieg’s concerto with the South Carolina Philharmonic. Other awards include first prizes in the Marlin-Engel and the Cogen Concerto Competitions, both sponsored by the Levine School of Music in Washington D. C., and first prize at the Alexandria Performing Art Association Competition, second prize in the Oberlin International Piano Competition, second prize in the PianoArts 2005 National Competition and third prize in the Eastman Music School International Piano Competition. Sejoon was selected for the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award, which carries a generous scholarship and the opportunity to appear on the well-known "From the Top" radio show.

Yoshiko Arahata
19, Rochester, NY & Tokyo, Japan

A dual student in Piano Performance at the Eastman School of Music and Brain and Cognitive Science at the University of Rochester, Yoshiko Arahata gives much thought to the reactions of audiences to her performances. “Through music, I hope to expand the audiences’ imagination and enthusiasm, enrich their emotions and most importantly inspire them to love music more.” Yoshiko further hopes that her audiences remember her performances as being musical, soulful and alive; that they are more than what some cognitive scientists argue music as auditory “cheesecake.” Yoshiko, herself, loves to attend performances (“concert-hopping”) and she likes to play with a variety of ensembles, including jazz combos and big bands. She also plays clarinet and the Japanese drum (taiko).

Yoshiko was born in California, where she has lived most of her life and was the 2006 Valedictorian at Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. During high school, she enjoyed participating in piano competitions and won over two dozen awards, including the Grand Prize in the Long Beach Mozart Festival Concerto Competition and a debut with the Long Beach Festival Orchestra, where she performed Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 3. She also took first place in the International Young Artists Peninsula Competition and second place with the Los Angeles International Liszt Competition. As a member of piano trios, she was broadcast twice on k–Mozart 105.1FM. Busy Yoshiko still found time to volunteer at the Japanese American National Museum, the California Philharmonic Orchestra and at Keiro Nursing Home.

Although Yoshiko’s family now lives in Japan, she spends most of her time in the United States as a recipient of a Howard Hanson Scholarship at Eastman School of Music, where she studies piano with Barry Snyder.

Brian Chang
17, Naperville, IL

Brian Chang enjoys a challenge. He likes math, chemistry and music and being with people who can discuss those subjects. Brian is looking forward to the PianoArts competition, which he describes as “extremely challenging…. I enjoy the format: having to talk about each piece before playing it (to demonstrate some knowledge about the piece), being able to play a duo (displaying our ability to perform with others), and being able to interact with all of the other participants. Best of all, I would love the excitement of playing the concerto with a great orchestra.” Besides classical music, Brian says he tries not to take anything too seriously and in his free time, he enjoys playing basketball, listening to jazz, and rapping.

A junior at the Illinois Mathematic and Science Academy in Aurora, Brian is a piano student of James Giles at Northwestern University. In addition to performing as a piano soloist, Brian is an avid chamber musician, having played with various ensembles in the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra and Midwest Young Artists. This past season, his ensemble, Trio Vita, won first place at the Rembrandt Chamber Player High School Chamber Music Competition as well as Chicago National Chamber Music Competition and was featured in the National Public Radio show, “From the Top.” They performed at Chicago’s Cultural Center and Harris Theatre and were broadcast on Chicago classical music station, WFMT.

Brian has won many awards as a soloist, including the overall winner in the senior group and open division of the 2006 Walgreens National Concerto Competition. That same year, he was also a finalist in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Feinberg Youth Auditions and won first place in the senior group of the Chinese Fine Arts Society Piano Competition. In 2008 he won first place in the senior group of the Steinway Young Artist Solo Competition.

Amy K. Lauters
19, Manhattan, Kansas

Before she goes to her morning classes at Lawrence University Conservatory, Amy Lauters listens to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem, a huge, grand work that she finds inspiring. Because Mozart is her favorite composer, she is happy to have this opportunity to perform a Mozart piano concerto and hopes that her audience shares her joy and other emotions that the music evoke.

A graduate of the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, Amy studied with Yoshikazu Nagai and Thomas Lymenstull. She was on the Dean’s High Honors List, served as a school ambassador and as an intern. Her awards included a piano accompanying fellowship, performing an honors recital and a Fine Arts Award for Piano at Interlochen. She also attended the Interlochen Arts Camp, where she had the opportunity to perform for Olga Kern.

Amy enjoys participating in a wide range of musical activities – playing with jazz ensembles, for church services, and for musicals. She has a passion for Russian literature and gets “worked up” when she listens to the orchestral works of Peter Tchaikovsky, Gustav Mahler and Igor Stravinsky. She is a 2008 winner of Wisconsin Public Radio’s Neale–Silva Young Artists’ Competition and performed an April recital that was broadcast live on Wisconsin’s National Public Radio News and Classical Music Network.

Next fall, Amy will begin her sophomore year at Lawrence Conservatory, where she studies with Anthony Padilla. She is an accompanying fellow, teaches private lessons and recently performed for concert pianist Jon Kimura Parker. About her performance for PianoArts, she hopes that she can perform and verbally communicate with the audience about her pieces. “Music can be many different things for different people…. I love these pieces and want to convey to the audience that I love what I do.”

Sean Yeh
16, Libertyville, IL

When he was four, he began taking violins lessons and at six, he began piano, so it is no surprise that Sean Yeh enjoys performing chamber music. As a violist, he performs with the BAM quartet, the winner of the Bonze Medal at the 2005 Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition, the youngest aged winners in the competition. The quartet was then featured on the National Public Radio program, “From the Top,” on WFMT Radio, at the Young Steinway Concert Series, Chicago Cultural Center, Northwestern Illinois University’s Mostly Music Series and “Music in the Loft.” Sean also plays piano with the Esprit Piano Trio, which performed at the Music Institute of Chicago’s Gala honoring the legendary pianist Leon Fleisher and at a workshop with renowned cellist Yo Yo Ma and his Silk Road Ensemble.

Sean has also won many honors as a solo pianist. In 2005 he was invited to perform at the Tenth World Piano Pedagogy Conference in California. Then in 2006 he won first place in the Sejong Music Competition and took the first prize in the East Central Division in the Music Teachers National Association Baldwin Junior Piano Competition. In 2008 Sean won the third prize with the Seventeenth Annual Steinway Young Artists Solo Piano Competition and the first prize in the East Central Division in the Music Teachers National Association Yamaha Senior Piano Competition. Sean’s most memorable performance was his 2007 debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as a pianist in Camille Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals. He studies piano at the Music Institute of Chicago with Emilio del Rosario and Matt Hagle and additionally studies with Alan Chow from Northwestern University. He also enjoys math, computer programming and playing video games.

Alexander Zhu
16, Saint Paul, MN

Starting first with piano lessons, then with violin lessons, Alexander Zhu now hopes to become a conductor. He has learned to play eleven piano concertos and several violin concertos. He is the concertmaster of the top orchestra in the Greater Twin Cities Youth Orchestras, a freelance violinist and a piano accompanist. In addition to his love of piano and violin repertories, he enjoys the symphonies of Phillip Glass, Dmitri Shostakovich, Peter Tchaikovsky and Ludwig van Beethoven, as well as orchestral works by John Adams, Gustav Holst, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Leonard Bernstein and operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Alexander is also fluent in French and loves to study geography.

Alexander has won many awards, including first prizes in the 2007 and 2005 Twin Cities Youth Symphonies Concerto Competitions, and the 2007 Morningside College Young Artist Competition in Sioux City, Iowa. Among other awards, he has won second prizes in the Schubert Club Scholarship Competition, Augustana Lee Piano Competition and third prize in the International Russian Music Piano Competition, Junior Division, in San Jose, California.

The reasons Alexander entered the PianoArts competition are to meet other young artists like himself, to bring his repertory to a higher level, and to have the opportunity to perform with professional musicians. His goals are to project a mature artistry, technical charisma and integrity in bringing out the composer’s thoughts and intentions. He has also been accepted to participate in the piano program of the Eastern Music Festival this summer. Alexander is home schooled and studies with Susan Billmeyer, the pianist with the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra.

“Choo Choo” Hu
19, Chesterfield, MO

Speaking about her PianoArts performances, Choo Choo Hu says that her ultimate goal is for her audience to “walk away with a sense of reflection and contemplation….” She wants “to engage them in the active process of music-making…. Just like playing with an orchestra, the rapport between performer and audience is very much a collaborative effort, and a performance cannot be successful without the full participation of both parties.”

Choo Choo has had the opportunity to put those words into action on many occasions. She was a two-time winner of the Washington University Symphony Orchestra Young Artists Piano Concerto Competition. As the winner of the 2005 St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra Piano Concerto Competition, she performed all movements of Peter Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto no. 1. Choo Choo is interested in expanding her horizons and broadening her experiences as a collaborator with an orchestra and as a solo instrumentalist. Another recent award as a piano soloist was the second prize in the Margaret A Guthman Keyboard Competition.

Her life revolves around music. When Choo Choo is not practicing piano, she enjoys attending symphony concerts and is especially drawn to the symphonies of Gustav Mahler and Peter Tchaikovsky, as well as Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto, and Peter Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.

Because she was home schooled beginning with the eighth grade, her high school studies were accelerated and she entered college a year early. Next season, Choo Choo will be a junior at the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University, where she studies piano with Brian Ganz. “I have been playing the piano since the age of five. It is one of my greatest passions and one that I want to continue to pursue for the rest of my life.”

Hunter Jennings
18k Highland, MA

As a double major in business and music performance, Hunter Jennings will be especially interested in the cultural and economic impact of the arts on America’s communities. But at the present time, he is concentrating on his growth as a musician. Through the years, Hunter has enjoyed performing, practicing, and learning about music. Entering Towson University as a performance major was a turning point in his development, and now he is excited about exploring opportunities outside the university setting.

Hunter began his piano study with Dr. Joan Spicknall and completed the entire Suzuki Piano Method. He enjoys listening to classical music – string ensembles, such as the Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber, violin concertos and the Beethoven symphonies. About his own performances and what he would like the audience to hear in his music, Hunter said, “I would like the audience to appreciate the amount of emotion, thought and concentration that goes into every performance.” He believes that if he can convey those things, while at the same time his performance sounds natural and beautiful, he will be successful.

Winning several competitions and receiving a full–tuition Fine Arts Scholarship to Towson University encouraged Hunter to pursue his love of music. At Towson University, he is a piano student of Reynaldo Reyes, whom he credits for helping him advance his skills in technique and musicality.

Yi An Pan
16, Interlochen, MI

Born in Singapore to a family of musicians, Yi An Pan was raised surrounded by music. Her first music teachers were her grandparents, who taught at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. She began piano at age four and started cello lessons with her mother when she was eleven. When Yi An was twelve, she played the piano part for a recording of Butterfly Lovers concerto for violin and orchestra with soloist Gill Shaham and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, but Yi An says that she didn’t become serious about music until she was thirteen. That’s when she toured with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra to America, France and Spain as the youngest member of the orchestra. When she was fourteen, she had the honor of playing for the President of Singapore at a Young Performers Concert, and also performed Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 24 with the Singapore Symphony and entered a competition in the United States, the Seventh Russian Music Piano Competition in San Jose, California, winning its second prize. She was also accepted at the Interlochen Arts Academy, where she studies with Thomas J. Lymenstull.

It is no surprise that Yi An loves both piano and cello music, such as the Edward Elgar Cello Concert and Peter Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme for cello and orchestra. Yi An also likes pop music. But for now, she is looking forward to performing classical piano music – solos, a concerto and the duo in the PianoArts competition, which she believes are invaluable experiences for young musicians. She hopes that her performances will “captivate and fascinate” the audiences.

Paige Chun Li
18, Interlochen, MI & Jiang Su, China

When she was twelve, Paige Chun Li moved to Shanghai to attend the middle school connected with the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. She had been studying music since the age of seven in her hometown of Jiang Su, China, where Paige’s house was always filled with music. After winning several awards, Paige’s parents and teachers had encouraged her to further her studies in Shanghai and she was soon was winning piano competitions there.

“Being independent and optimistic, I adapt quickly to new environments….” says Paige, who is always ready for a challenge. When she was seventeen, she was accepted at the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan and moved to the United States. At the Academy, Paige studies piano with Thomas J. Lymenstull.

The PianoArts competition is her first major competition in the United States, which she thinks will be a good overview of all that she has learned at the Academy. She feels that this competition gives each contestant more opportunities to succeed because of the variety of events – several rounds, speaking to the audiences about music and the performance of chamber music. It reflects “one’s reaction speed and cooperation with others…extremely crucial in becoming a musician…. playing well is simply not enough.” The most important thing to her is that “my audience enjoys my music.”

In addition to performing the piano, Paige plays traditional Chinese instruments and loves to sing. Outside the piano repertory, her favorite music is for the voice, “the most beautiful sound in the world.” But for now, she is concentrating on her piano performance.

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