American Pianists Association 2013 winner Sean Chen performs in Carmel Nov. 14 with the Carmel Symphony Orchestra


Commentary by Jay Harvey


Sean Chen, a pianist whose breakout year 2013 included the top prize in the American Pianists Association competition in Indianapolis, will return as a soloist with the Carmel Symphony Orchestra Nov. 14.

Chen went on from being named the APA’s DeHaan Classical Fellow to capturing third place (the Crystal Award) in the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth.

The Florida native grew up in California, where his playing was honored several times before he moved east to attend the Juilliard School, from which he has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in piano performance. Last year, he added an Artist Diploma from Yale University to his academic distinctions.

His second visit to the Palladium as a CSO guest will feature him in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, again under the baton of David Bowden. He first appeared with the orchestra in October 2014, when he played the Grieg Piano Concerto.

Also on the 7:30 p.m. program are Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” and Sibelius’ “Finlandia.”

The 27-year-old Chen has been featured on public-radio shows “From the Top” and “Performance Today,” and he’s made recordings for the Harmonia Mundi, Steinway, and Parma labels.

Of his performance of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra in April 2014, I wrote: “Chen displayed crisp articulation through the thickets of figuration and octaves in the outer movements, with the addition of expressive insight that seemed to freshen up the familiar work. His tone in the “Andantino semplice” had a rare refinement for a young player, and the effect was mesmerizing.”

In his concert appearance last year with the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, I praised his “impeccable elan” in Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto, noting his “clean trills, crisp octaves, good dynamic variety and evenness in all passage work.”