After winning an astonishing number of awards both before and after college at Juilliard, classical pianist Sean Chen is doing what he loves best: travelling the country to play at a wide range of venues. This will be his second time at the Santa Fe Beethoven Festival (7 pm Saturday, May 14, and 4 pm Sunday, May 15, $23, at the Lensic, 211 W San Francisco St, 988-1234).
What's the rundown for the festival?
I'm playing Beethoven's Choral Fantasy, which is a piece for piano, orchestra and chorus. It is an interesting piece, because it's one of the only pieces for that arrangement, and it's sort of the prototype to the 9th Symphony; the 9th Symphony has a chorus too, and the melody is kind of similar too, so it's kind of interesting. After that, I'm playing the Lizst arrangement for the 4th movement to the 5th Symphony, in keeping with the Beethoven theme.
What is your own background in music?
Three years ago, I was fortunate enough to win two competitions. I got third place at the Van Cliburn Competition, and I won the award for the American Pianists Association classical fellowship. Both competitions have a management and tour schedule as part of the prize. I have been travelling and playing since then. I did my studies at Juilliard, I did undergrad and master's at Juilliard, and then I went to Yale to do my artist diploma.
What role did Beethoven play in your musical education?
I've always felt an affinity for his music. It's both emotional and expressive but also very intellectual and very powerful. He's got all sorts of music and all sorts of instrumentation: piano sonatas, chamber music, orchestra music; I enjoy all of it. I especially like listening to the non-piano stuff, because I play piano, and you get sick and tired of hearing the piano all the time. His symphonies are great, and it's always fun to learn something Beethoven wrote. It's also a challenge.