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DISCOVERING world-class pianists | meet Alex Beyer | #TeamAlex

In March, Alex Beyer, currently studying music at the New England Conservatory and math at Harvard (at the SAME time!!!), learned he was named a finalist of the 2017 American Pianist Awards.

At the time, we had a short conversation about Harvard’s failure to make the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. “I think it is amazing that people in college are performing at such a high level. I went to a couple of games this season and you see the guys walking around campus, and I think it is amazing that they can do what they do and manage to get through school,” he shared.

Asked if this admiration of the players’ work ethic would lead him to cheer for fellow Ivy Leaguers Yale in the tournament, Alex’s competitive instincts immediately kicked in: “Too bitter about not being there ourselves. So, no, I won’t be rooting for Yale.”

Hard-working. A talented musician with true artistry. Appreciative of others. And above all else, a focused competitor. Meet Alex Beyer!

Alexander Beyer - Alex Beyer Headshot 1


Alex was born in Connecticut and was exposed to music at an early age:

I was taking really basic rhythm classes when I was four years old. Perhaps the first real memory I have from a musical experience was feeling those rhythmic patterns sort of click. I wasn’t really naturally gifted with this stuff, but once I caught on it was really appealing. It was through the Kindermusik program (woodblocks and that sort of thing), and I think my mom was working with them in some capacity anyway so I was lucky enough to be in the right place at that time.

I also started solo piano lessons pretty early around the age of 4, so I was exposed to the layout of the keyboard and basic ear training from a young age which I think is really helpful.

In this clip he describes his first piano (an “old upright”) and talks about how the challenge of learning new pieces drove his interest:

As he learned the basics, Alex devoured new material:

Really for the first 5 years or so that I was playing, that challenge was what it was all about –even more than creating the final product it was about learning new things after having heard them and enjoyed them. In that way yes it was very much a mental exercise. And I still obviously love the challenge of learning new stuff.

When he was 8 years old, his family bought a grand piano. Here he talks about his favorite music in those early years:

Alex’s family moved to California for a few years. While there he picked up an interest in sports that he brought back to Connecticut and which continues today:

Here he describes how playing competitive tennis helped prepare him for success in other pursuits:

“Fer sure” that time in California added another outlet for Alex’s competitive instincts—not to mention some California English to his speech! Aside from intramural soccer, Alex participated in Harvard’s school-wide running race last year and finished eighth overall. “I like to think I don’t have this sort of fervor all the time, but yeah, I think there is something fun about giving everything that you’ve got on the soccer field or the tennis court or the keyboard, for sure.”

Both his athletic activities and his artistic pursuits require skills honed through rigorous practice and dedication. But as Alex mentioned in the previous clip, true artistry requires an added layer of inspiration to create beauty from a base level of excellence.

One manner in which Alex gains inspiration is spending time in nature. In fact, he was outside when he received the call from American Pianists Association CEO and Artistic Director Joel Harrison notifying him of his inclusion in the 2017 Awards: “I live right by the woods, and it was a nice day for just taking a walk. It was a great surprise!”

Alex credits his mom, Misty, for serving as a role model:

This is something my mom has definitely passed on—a love for the Earth, a love for the planet that we live on, watching the way things work in nature. And so that has been perhaps the greatest source of inspiration—from the physical universe.

Here, Alex expands upon how his walks have given him a vocabulary for interpreting music and a deep appreciation for music and life in general:

In addition to his music and math studies, Alex continues searching for new challenges. Last year he became interested in film studies.

I never really was serious about looking for good film until last year when I became fascinated with Ingmar Bergman. I first watched “The Seventh Seal” and was sort of tossed into this world of the middle ages that I am already fascinated by. What a way of getting into that world! It’s really a fantastic film.

And, as a lover of “Star Wars,” I would say that is one case of introducing a whole new lexicon of sounds to our ears. It’s a whole vocabulary of sounds that was introduced to the public consciousness once it exploded.

Applying his interest in film to his pursuit of music, Alex was interviewed in the Harvard Crimson last year about historically informed performance in classical music—should artists perform on instruments from the specific time period of the composition? Here are Alex’s thoughts:

This past semester did not allow Alex much time to watch movies. In May, he competed in the prestigious Queen Elisabeth Competition in Belgium. Working math problems for school in between practice and juried performances over the three-week event, Alex won third prize and participated in the medalists’ tour that followed. (recently announced 2017 American Pianists Awards finalist Henry Kramer won second prize in the same competition)

Now back home in Connecticut, he is playing a couple of benefit concerts this summer before resuming his studies in the fall. Be it upon an international stage or in a private home, Alex appreciates every opportunity to perform:

Alex will share his music with attendees of the American Pianists Awards Premiere Series in February 2017. The ever-competitive artist embraces his opportunity in the Awards and looks forward to spending time with his fellow finalists:

We look forward to it as well!

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 March 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.

Alex Beyer’s Premiere Series concert will be Sunday, February 26, 2017 at the Indiana History Center. As part of the American Pianists Awards program, Alex will also complete a residency at Broad Ripple High School 2/27/17 to 3/1/17. Show your support for him on social media by mentioning #AmericanPianistsAwards #TeamAlex!





BEAUTY of music | jazz performers vs. classical composers

Who’s your favorite jazz pianist?

Who’s your favorite classical composer?

These are questions that are most commonly asked among music lovers. Less often will the questions be reversed. Why? Jazz is a performer-focused genre, whereas classical emphasizes the composer.

For a jazz pianist, composing and performing are one in the same. The composer/musician Gunther Schuller once wrote that “improvisation is the heart and soul of jazz,” and David Baker would argue that improvisation should be the cornerstone of jazz education. The improvisational roots of jazz can be found in how many pieces are notated: rather than have every note written down, jazz performers often use lead sheets, which offer the melody and a broad outline of the harmony. It is up to the performer to fill in the gaps. A familiar standard might look something like this on the page:

jazz example

Lead sheets give jazz musicians a great deal of freedom. You get a melody and some chords, and the rest is up to the musician. Following are two interpretations of this Cole Porter classic:

2015 American Pianists Awards winner Sullivan Fortner

Cy Walter

Contrast this to the highly detailed writing, of say, a song by Anton Webern from his Op. 12, (“Schien mir’s, als ich sah die Sonne”).

classical example

Notice in Webern’s song, every single note has some kind of additional marking. The composer has taken control of every pitch, rhythm, dynamic, tempo, articulation, and phrasing. He leaves almost nothing to chance (except perhaps a musician’s ability to realize every detail at one time). The Webern example is extreme, but generally speaking, classical notation is far more detailed than jazz.

The role of the jazz performer has always been to realize a piece of music as creatively and individually as possible. While performers draw on traditions that have been handed down through generations of jazz musicians, no two jazz performers (if they are any good) will perform a piece the same way. In fact, given the improvisational aspect to jazz performance, rarely will two performances of the same piece by the same artist sound exactly the same.

American Pianists Association friend and frequent jury member (both jazz and classical) John Salmon writes, “The tradition of focusing on the jazz performer rather than the work being performed is at the core and beginning of the whole jazz tradition. Jazz pianists were always trying to outdo each other, as in the famous Harlem rent parties when pianists would basically compete against each other and the most extravagant and virtuosic pianist would win the night’s honor. Virtuosity has always been at the core of jazz performers. James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, Art Tatum, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane had mighty chops. True, there were outlier exceptions, including the wistful and decidedly non-virtuosic saxophonist Paul Desmond and the subdued, lyrical Billie Holiday. But, even in these cases, the focus was inevitably on how they interpreted jazz standards almost more than the jazz standard itself.”

There are many schools of thought in classical performance, and aesthetics change considerably over time. Music of previous eras became more popular in the 19th century when a canon of literature was established, and performers at the time had no problem putting their own spin on the classics, often ignoring markings and even changing notes. Gustav Mahler even rearranged works, including symphonies by Beethoven, “correcting” areas that suffered from the limitations of the early 19th-century orchestra. Mahler would argue that these “corrections” were in keeping with the spirit of the composer—he simply wanted to bring out layers in the score.

In the early 20th century, the come scritto (as written) movement popularized by the conductor Arturo Toscanini became a popular aesthetic. Sviatoslav Richter would apply this technique to the piano. On his approach to performing, he wrote, “The interpreter is really an executant, carrying out the composer’s intentions to the letter. He doesn’t add anything that isn’t already in the work. If he is talented, he allows us to glimpse the truth of the work that is in itself a thing of genius and that is reflected in him. He shouldn’t dominate the music, but should dissolve into it.”

Here is an example of Richter playing Bach:

While Toscanini and Richter would embody a textual interpretation (we might call them the Scalias of music), other 20th-century musicians were inclined toward a more individual way of playing, not unlike the musicians of the 19th century. The conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler epitomized this style as a conductor, and you can hear his influence on pianist/conductor Daniel Barenboim, who believes that tempo, far from being prescribed by a metronome marking, should be influenced above all by harmony. This tradition can find roots in Beethoven, who said about his own metronome markings that they only applied “to the first measures, as feeling has its own tempo.”

Here is Barenboim playing Beethoven:

Later in the 20th century, the historically informed performance movement would rely on research of period texts and treatises to attempt to recreate musical works as they sounded at the time of composition. Some performers specialize in performing music of specific eras by applying our knowledge of how things were performed over 200 years ago. Since most instruments evolved significantly throughout the 19th century, some instrument makers began building instruments in the style of previous eras to perform music from that era.

Here is an example of Melvyn Tan (fortepiano) and Roger Norrington (conductor) playing Beethoven concerti on period instruments:

Regardless of style, most classical musicians would agree that they are only trying to express the composer’s intentions, not their own. Classical pianists view themselves more as curators rather than co-creators. The musician becomes the vessel through which the composer speaks.

As one may imagine, the task of evaluating jazz pianists is quite different from that of a classical pianist. Judges will tell you what they have in common, though, is that they must have exceptional technique, and they must be able to connect to the audience. American Pianists Awards finalists and winners consistently demonstrate these qualities, and there are many performances to witness on our YouTube channel. Take a look and subscribe today!


Article by APA Artistic Administrator Milner Fuller with special thanks to John Salmon.


DISCOVERING world-class pianists | meet Drew Petersen | #TeamDrew

Exploration and discovery drive the mission of the American Pianists Association. Fittingly, those ideals also drive 2017 American Pianists Awards finalist Drew Petersen—though in unique ways.

Drew Petersen

Whereas the organization is focused on finding and promoting young, world-class American pianists, Drew is drawn toward vivid sensory experiences.

For the fourth article in our series covering the five Awards finalists, Drew joined us online for a short video call (our previously featured finalists were Steven Lin and Sam Hong). We discussed how he refreshes his musical artistry by exploring pieces off the beaten track, scoping out the nooks and crannies of New York City neighborhoods, treating meals like treasure hunts for distinctive cuisine and marveling at the “brilliant light in Greece that shatters all over the place.”

Drew was born in Oradell, New Jersey in 1993. He demonstrated an appreciation of beauty at a very early age:

(Drew’s fascination with church bells was also featured in Andrew Solomon’s book, “Far From the Tree,” which was excerpted in the New York Times Magazine)

This insistence on exploring music has been critical to Drew’s artistic development. At the age of 6, Drew’s mom, Sue Petersen, had him play for Manhattan School of Music’s Miyoko Lotto. He played Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata (see our primer on classical music names), and the shocked Ms. Lotto agreed to become a mentor. Through the years, Drew has had other fantastic teachers including Jerry Lowenthal, “a total inspiration—the kind of guy who would read French poetry in studio class just for fun” and his current teacher Robert McDonald (“phenomenal”). Yet he refers to Ms. Lotto as his “foundation” for making sure his technical skills were properly honed, and he continues to see her on occasion for technical “touch ups.”

Drew credits both parents for launching his piano studies by encouraging creative exploration. He explains:

My family is really, really happy and proud. They are so excited about all of this! I’ve been in a lot of competitions over the years, and a lot of them are not really so much fun, but my family realizes what this one means and all the opportunities it will afford me even before they announce any sort of winner.

My family has always been really supportive of me over the years. They have encouraged both me and my younger brother to pursue the arts even though they themselves are not artists. My brother is a theater major at Fordham, so if anything, I may look like a crazy artsy person, but it is nothing compared to what my brother does…he loves it, he is very passionate just like I am, and I’m really fortunate to have grown up in an environment where we are encouraged to follow our passions!

An important aspect of family life for the Petersen family is cooking: “My mom is half Armenian so we have a lot of Armenian and Middle Eastern foods in our family all the time, and I think it’s really, really cool this kind of food.” Here Drew discusses a family tradition centered around food:

Aside from his favorites, Drew has been discovering new foods:

I’ve been getting into a lot of obscure Asian foods recently. Normally I used to be a little more hesitant of things like jellyfish and shark fins, but now I’m trying this stuff and actually a lot of it is really good. Yet whenever I find something I really love I try to remember what it is and I can’t—it is kind of like the treasure hunt where you find the treasure and lose it again so I just have to keep trying and keep exploring.

Drew also feeds his thirst for discovery and exploration through travel:

Ever since I was a little kid I loved it! I thought being up in the air flying was so cool and then always arriving in some crazy destination which was so different from where I came from in only a matter of hours—it was so much fun!

In the following clip Drew talks about using those inspirational travel experiences to elevate his artistic production:

Diving deeper into his vivid descriptions, Drew talks about the “sensory overload” he felt in Greece:

Back in the States, Drew spends time at home in Oradell and exploring New York City. Apart from Juilliard or a performance, where might we find Drew? “I think it is really exciting to go to these small out of the way places that no one knows about on the map,” he says. Here are some possibilities:

For all the attractions of the city, Drew finds comfort at home in Oradell: “It is kind of nice to be based outside the city. I have my own piano to practice on and it is a lot of fun to be around my family. Sometimes I literally will wake up 7 in the morning, run out of the house and not be back until midnight.”

It was on a lazier day in March that Drew learned of his selection as an American Pianists Awards finalist:

It was a regular Sunday. [APA CEO Joel Harrison] emailed me and asked, ‘can you please call me? This call will be worth your time!’ And I was thinking, well there are only two options here: either I’m one of the five finalists or I’m one of the alternates that Joel had mentioned. But I thought that the note with an exclamation point was a little too positive so I called him. It was really cool and made my day!

Drew’s teacher, Robert McDonald, was excited:

Bob was proud to say that he nominated me and said, “This is a good opportunity for you to grow—no matter the result you grow as an artist and you grow as a person by doing all of these concerts. It is great experience to get out there and perform a lot of different music for a lot of different people.” He was very excited!

Drew continues, “But then very quickly he became very serious and said, ‘Well I guess this is the time for you. It’s a lot of work at a very high level—we need to think about music you are going to play.’ He wants me to do as well as possible. He knows the stakes are high, and we have a long road ahead of us.”

This “long road” of the American Pianists Awards fits very well with Drew’s vision of his professional future:

While Drew waits for his Premiere Series debut in Indianapolis (January 2017), he continues to practice and perform. Along the way, perhaps he will take small breaks to watch some of the Olympics (he was a swimmer and finds the efforts of Americans Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte “inspiring”) or catch the performances of the other finalists (available via our YouTube channel).

Speaking of the finalists, Drew wraps up our interview with these words to his peers:

We agree it will be “really cool” to discover Drew’s talents along with those of the other finalists, and we cannot wait to see where Drew’s musical explorations take him!

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.

Drew Petersen’s Premiere Series concert will be Sunday, January 29, 2017 at the Indiana History Center (get tickets!). As part of the American Pianists Awards program, Drew will also complete a residency at Lawrence Central High School 1/30/17 to 2/1/17. Show your support for him on social media by mentioning #AmericanPianistsAwards #TeamDrew!


ADVANCING the mission | meet Wayne DeVeydt


Great Homes Great Music, the American Pianists Association’s signature fundraising event, is just around the corner! These exclusive events are held in beautiful private homes. A biennial highlight, the program includes home tours, cocktails, musical performances and more.

This year’s event will be hosted by Wayne DeVeydt and Michele Jackson DeVeydt at their beautiful estate in Fishers, Indiana. The evening will feature performances by 2013 American Pianists Awards winner Sean Chen and 2015 American Pianists Awards winner Sullivan Fortner with guest jazz vocalist Valerie Phelps.

Wayne, who spent nine years as CFO of Anthem Inc., retired in June to focus on family and philanthropy. Michelle is a practicing attorney and founder of Global Orphan Foundation. We recently visited Wayne at their home to discuss music, the value of hard work and the uniqueness of piano.

Great Homes Great Music happens Thursday August 25, 2016. VIP/Patron tickets are sold out and general tickets are selling quickly…get yours today!


BEAUTY of music | classical music catalogues

What’s in a name?


A lot, actually!

Op. 27, No. 2; K. 545; D. 960; S. 178; BWV 998; Hob.XVI:52; Wq. 55; Sz. 95; BB 101…there are seemingly endless letter and number combinations in classical music titles. Simply looking at a program page can be intimidating. What do these titles mean?

Before we talk about those strange numbers at the end of some composers’ works, let’s take a simpler example and break it apart: Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 10, No. 1.

Piano sonata is a generic title that refers to a type of multi-movement piece for solo piano. Beethoven wrote 32 piano sonatas, and each has a unique number, 1-32, which is chronological based on when the piece is published (which is also typically, but not always, the order of composition).

C minor is the key of Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Sonata (see how I reversed the word order there?), which means the piece as a whole is considered to be “in C minor” (more on that another day).

So we have established that we are talking about the fifth piano sonata that Beethoven wrote, and C minor is the most important key in that piece–what does the rest of the title mean?

“Op. 10, No. 1” stands for opus 10, number 1. Opus is Latin for “work” or “piece,” as in a work of art or a piece of literature. An opus number is given to a work or group of similar works when it is published. If the opus is a group of works, each individual piece has a number. This numbering system is also chronological by publication date. The Piano Sonata No. 5, Op. 10, No. 1 is the fifth sonata Beethoven published, but it is the first work in Opus 10. Beethoven’s Opus 10 is a set of three piano sonatas.

Some pieces are more commonly referred to by their opus number, while others are more often identified by the generic title number. In Beethoven’s catalogue, string quartets, sonatas, and other smaller works are more familiar by their opus number and keys, whereas the symphonies and concerti are more often identified by the generic title number. For instance, if I asked you to hum the beginning of Beethoven’s Op. 67, you might not be able to do so. But if I asked you to hum the beginning of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, you would probably say something like, “da-da-da-daaaaaa!”


Some works are given nicknames, though often by someone other than the composer. The “Moonlight Sonata,” “Ghost Trio,” and “Harp Quartet” are so called because of what the music evokes in the listener. The “Archduke Trio,” the “Kreutzer Sonata,” and the “Rasumovsky” quartets are all so called because of the works’ dedicatee. Beethoven did give nicknames to his “Eroica” and “Pastorale” symphonies.

If Beethoven’s opus catalogue is the rule, then there are many exceptions. Some composers whose significant works were largely unpublished in their lifetimes have other forms of identification. In these cases, a musicologist will create a system and assign numbers to each work. This is the case most notably with Bach (BWV), Mozart (K or KV), Haydn (Hob.), Schubert (D), and Liszt (S). While BWV stands for Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis, or Bach Works Catalogue, the others represent the person who catalogued the works (Ludwig von Köchel, Anthony van Hoboken, Erich Deutsch, and Humphrey Searle, respectively. Catalogues for Bach, Haydn, and Liszt are thematic, meaning they are grouped by composition type. Catalogues for Mozart and Schubert, however, are strictly chronological.

Once you get familiar with a composer’s output, the numbers become more meaningful. I can’t see the number 131 without hearing the melancholy fugue that opens that particular Beethoven quartet. These numbers become as familiar as a dear friend.

The American Pianists Awards are held every two years to discover the best aspiring young American jazz or classical pianists. The unique and innovative competitions span 13 months and provide a platform to deeply engage musical artists in a variety of creative formats and settings. Winners receive cash and two years of career advancement and support valued at over $100,000, making this one of the most coveted prizes in the music world and the largest for American jazz pianists.

The Premiere Series provides the first live juried performances of the five American Pianists Awards finalists. Over the course of five months, each finalist makes an initial appearance on stage in Indianapolis for solo and ensemble performance and completes a Concerto Curriculum residency.

The 2017 American Pianists Awards Premiere Series schedule (including catalogue numbered repertoire!) is as follows:

  • September 25, 2016: Henry Kramer performs Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K. 503 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  • November 6th, 2016 : Steven Lin performs Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15 by Ludwig van Beethoven
  • December 4, 2016: Sam Hong performs Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37 by Ludwig van Beethoven
  • January 29, 2017: Drew Petersen performs Piano Concerto No. 5 in E♭ Major, Op. 73 (Emperor) by Ludwig van Beethoven
  • February 26, 2017: Alex Beyer performs Piano Concerto No. 2 in B♭ Major, Op. 19 by Ludwig van Beethoven

DISCOVERING world-class pianists | meet Sam Hong | #TeamSam

Sam Hong was stirring up some fried rice when his phone buzzed.

His piano trio was in town for a week of rehearsals, and he was making food for the group. Checking the phone, he saw an email from American Pianists Association President and Artistic Director Joel Harrison asking for a call back ASAP. Sam did so and was thrilled to learn that he was a finalist for the 2017 American Pianists Awards!

Sahun Hong - SAHUNHONG_photo2
2017 American Pianists Awards finalist Sam Hong

This short anecdote serves as an illustration of two critical but somewhat contrasting things you need to know about Sam: first, he enjoys people. Whether spending time with family, making music with chamber groups or hosting fellow musicians and friends, there is a pronounced social aspect to Sam’s life.

Second, (and familiar to all of us who like to throw random ingredients into a hot pan) he likes to stir up conventions with a decidedly individualistic flair. At just 22 years old, Sam has led a very unique life to date and is unabashedly proud of his efforts to claim new ground.

Of course, we wouldn’t know either of these things had he not had that conversation with Joel Harrison. In order to be selected an American Pianists Awards finalist, Sam first had to master the keyboard. Let’s just say he had an early start:

Sam elaborates:

Piano was one of the things my mother really wanted to do but didn’t have a chance to pursue as a child so she encouraged me a lot. I loved it so much that there was a point in my childhood when I was 6 or 7 when she said to me, “well this is all good but you need to go outside and play. I’m going to make you quit for a year or take a break.” And so I did. And apparently at the end of that I said, “Okay mom so we’ve had a year and now I’m going to go back to playing the piano.”

Sahun Sam Hong was born in Seoul, Korea on July 18, 1994, making him the youngest finalist in this year’s competition. Sam’s family moved to the United States when he was 8 after his father decided to attend seminary school here. The family found its way to Fort Worth, Texas and got a teacher to help Sam continue following his passion for the keys. Amazed by the talented youngster, Sam’s piano teacher contacted Texas Christian University (TCU) piano chair John Owings to hear him play. With the support of Owings, at the age of 11 Sam enrolled at TCU. When his family decided to move on from Texas, eventually it was agreed that Sam would stay behind with his “second family”:

Growing up in the Lone Star State may have helped shape Sam’s independent sensibilities, as Sam recounts:

I remember when I was studying when I was younger I did feel a little like a musical lone ranger in the fact that I am working and I don’t have a lot of people near me who seem to be on a similar path. Texas has a sense of freedom to it for sure. It has a sense of being able to look into yourself and be free to experiment. Be free in the sense that we are really to develop our own voice, and I enjoyed that very much.

At the age of 16, Sam graduated magna cum laude from Texas Christian University (TCU) with a Bachelor of Music degree in Piano Performance. He currently studies at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

As Sam has continued his studies, his attention has been drawn toward performing with others—particularly in chamber groups. Sam explains:

Well I think that working in chamber music requires you to develop an interpretation that is coherent and is understood by more people. So while it does make it more difficult to create an interpretation that has absolutely no compromise, I think at the same time it helps in understanding how other people understand your ideas and helps you find new colors with the encouragement from the other members or just inspiration from the sounds of their instruments.

And the instruments aside from piano that Sam enjoys most are strings, the sound of which he describes as “incomparable.” In addition to piano, he studied cello when he was young, before becoming dedicated to the piano. Recently, he began playing cello again, “just so that in rehearsal with a cellist I can say here is what I think it should sound like and then I can go to his cello and just do it!”

Given his love for piano and strings, Sam lists masters of both as inspiration: Jacqueline du Pré, Pierre Fournier, Arthur Rubinstein and William Primrose.

Fittingly, a chamber music festival introduced Sam to his favorite place to perform:

This group setting perfectly fits Sam’s sensibilities. Pressed for a dream venue he would like to play, he doesn’t hesitate: “I’d love to play [Hotel St. Bernard] again. I don’t really have a particular hall or anything like that. I think halls are really great–acoustically they’re perfect—but I think to reach the human part of us it requires an intimate setting. So for me the space or the legendary hall is not as important of a thing.”

As for the future, Sam shares the following:

Sam Hong is excited for his Premiere Series performance on December 4, 2016 with the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra: “I’m going to love that! I’m looking forward to it so much!” Indeed, Sam is thrilled to participate in the American Pianists Awards and understands the uniqueness of the competition.

He also holds in high regard former Awards winners and his fellow competitors. Of 2013 American Pianists Awards winner Sean Chen he says, “I’m a really big fan of him and his Beethoven playing. I think he is one of few modern pianists who really get it right on Beethoven and I’m really happy to see that he is an alum.” And to the four other finalists for the 2017 Awards, Sam offers the following:

A warm message from a very social yet independent musician. We look forward to welcoming Sam to town this December. And to address Sam’s request, yes, those not able to attend performances of the American Pianists Awards will still have the opportunities to experience beautiful music through APA’s YouTube channel and website.

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.

Sam Hong’s Premiere Series concert will be Sunday, December 4 at the Indiana History Center. As part of the American Pianists Awards program, Sam will also complete a residency at Lawrence North High School 12/5 to 12/7. Show your support for him on social media by mentioning #AmericanPianistsAwards #TeamSam!