Perhaps you have seen the video…the young pianist is playing a beautiful sonata by Haydn, head down then arched back, fingers dancing, feet working the pedals, music flowing gracefully through his upper body. The video’s title on YouTube, however, fuels concern: “Steven Lin performs through earthquake in Japan.” What???
At the 1:50 mark, the picture starts to shake. Steven Lin, the pianist, continues to play. The shaking intensifies, the mic pics up sounds of shuffling. Steven continues to play. A minute into the magnitude 6.1 earthquake, the shaking dissipates, and Steven smoothly transitions into the next section, completely focused and delightfully immersed in his music.
Would you believe someone who wouldn’t stop playing piano during an earthquake once avoided practice like the plague?
Steven joined us by video chat to discuss his selection as a finalist in the 2017 American Pianists Awards. We discussed his introduction to piano, his development as an artist, home and more. Throughout, we focused on the key inspirations for his passion which fueled the “earthquake performance” and continues to push Steven to greater creative heights.
It all started with his mom. It was the mid-1990s (“wow, yeah 90s,” recalls an amused Steven), and he and his family had moved from Los Angeles, where he was born, to Taiwan.
“So my mom first took me to these Yamaha group classes, and long story short for a half a year she said every class (it is a 30 minute class), I would be staring at the ceiling the entire time. She would do my homework every time right before the class, so we stopped going. My mom’s friend thought maybe I would be more interested if I was taking a one on one lesson with somebody, so she recommended this teacher she really liked. That’s how I got started.”
Steven responded well to individual lessons and developed a deep respect for his teacher’s approach to music:
Under Ms. Kim’s tutelage, Steven played his first competition at 7 years old. He recalls that experience:
“It was my first time on stage. At that time I think I had only been playing for six months. I remember going up on stage trying to play a Mozart sonata—the famous C Major [K. 545] that everybody plays when they are a kid. I felt like it was very exciting! I enjoyed that experience very much!”
Steven returned to live in the United States after three years of lessons with Ms. Kim, but he visits his parents in Taiwan occasionally and tries to visit Ms. Kim every time he goes back.
Having a close personal connection was inspiring for Steven and something that he would rely upon again as his studies advanced.
“For me to be interested in this field, the environment that you are in is super important. I’m not just talking about a conservatory but the people you hang out with. I think we can all be influenced by our friends.”
Here he discusses a turning point in his development as a world-class pianist:
In addition to the people in his life, Steven cites some music as especially inspiring:
Aside from Steven’s insightful commentary, viewers of that video could likely hear sounds of a city in the background. Is that LA? Taiwan? Somewhere else? Steven has lived in a few different places, and we asked how those places have shaped him:
Despite this love for New York, after completing his degree at Juilliard, Steven moved to Philadelphia to continue studies at the Curtis Institute of Music. Today, having graduated from Curtis, Steven still lives in Philly.
“Because piano requires so much time alone and when you are living in New York you can so easily get caught up in what is going around you. Back then it was getting too distracting; I was going through this time when I needed space to myself. That’s the biggest reason I wanted to go to Curtis—it’s more of an intimate place where I can explore the possibilities of music.”
Asked where we would go during a visit to his new home, he replies, “If you come down here I would take you to an ice cream place called Franklin Fountain. I love ice cream!”
Another love for Steven was gifted by his birthplace. Being born in LA and having many relatives in the area made Steven a fan of the National Basketball Association’s Los Angeles Lakers. In this clip, Steven discusses his affinity for the Lakers and his admiration of Kobe Bryant, the newly-retired former NBA champion and one of the game’s all-time greats:
And just like a basketball player who lives in the practice gym, Steven has dedicated himself to his musical craft. “In all honesty the last three years I’ve lived here have literally been all about music.” The one time unfocused student now practices 6 to 8 hours a day and has been called a “late-blooming rising star.”
Fittingly, when American Pianists Association President Joel Harrison called Steven to inform him of his selection as a finalist, Steven missed the call. Why? “I was practicing,” shares Steven. Once the two spoke and Steven learned he would be included in the 2017 American Pianists Awards, was it celebration time? “No, I just kind of kept practicing!”
Steven will continue practicing this summer in preparation for his Premiere Series concert in November and offers the following message to his fellow finalists: “I think the most important thing is music. Just try to do our best to be who we are on stage.”
Of the group he continues, “I know Kate [Liu] from Curtis who is really a beautiful pianist.” He says he doesn’t really know the others. However, Steven looks forward to getting to know them throughout the 13-month-long competition:
Friends, teachers, 20th century music, basketball, fellow pianists and more—it is remarkable how Steven draws inspiration from so much in life. We look forward to learning more about this inspiring pianist during his time in Indianapolis this fall!
Oh and that earthquake video? Enjoy:
The American Pianists Awards finalists were selected by jury from nominations of the top American classical pianists aged 18-30. Each pianist performs a Premiere Series concert in Indianapolis between September 2016 and February 2017. All five finalists return to Indianapolis for a week of juried performances next spring, culminating in the naming of a winner on April 8, 2017.
Steven Lin’s Premiere Series concert will be Sunday, November 6 at the Indiana History Center. As part of the American Pianists Awards program, Steven will also complete a residency at Warren Central High School 11/7 to 11/9. Show your support for him on social media by mentioning #AmericanPianistsAwards #TeamSteven!