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A series of conversations with the Cliburn competitors
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Born: Florida, but grew up in Oak Park, a suburb of Los Angeles.
Lives: New Haven, Conn., where he is pursuing an artist’s diploma at Yale School of Music.
His start: Chen started playing the piano at age 4. A few years later, he picked up violin, too. “As an Asian kid, you play an instrument. It’s a given,” he says.
Background: Chen has performed with the Indianapolis Chamber, New West Symphony, Suwon Philharmonic and Juilliard orchestras, among others. He also has given solo recitals, including performances in New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Taipei, China.
Homesick: Chen misses his parents’ cooking, especially his father’s jajangmyeon, a Chinese black bean noodle dish. He occasionally tries to re-create their recipes in his own kitchen, but he admits his girlfriend is the far better cook.
A weather shock: When a snowstorm earlier this year blocked the front door of his apartment, this West Coast transplant was forced to climb out of a window and shovel a path. “That was definitely a first,” he says.
On his nightstand: Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. “A musician should get to know literature,” he says.
Daily schedule: Chen is a night owl. He prefers to sleep in and practice late in the evening, often staying awake past 1 a.m.
When he’s not practicing: You can find Chen at the computer. He enjoys programming and playing video games, and he has taken computer science courses at Columbia and Yale. “A lifetime is a long time,” he says. “Now I am focused on music, but there is always a chance I could do music and computers in the future.”
Cliburn goals: “Like any competition, I want to play my best and communicate onstage,” he says. “Whatever happens happens. All I can control is how I play.”
— Sarah Bahari