The Crystal Award winner of the 12th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, SA CHEN was named “a brilliant pianist” by the great pianist Emanuel Ax. Her first major performance was in 1996, at the age of 16, when she was seen live on BBC Television competing in the final round of the Leeds International Piano Competition, with Sir Simon Rattle conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony. The British public was captivated.
Chen was born in Chongqing, China. She began her musical studies with Dan Zhaoyi at the Sichuan Conservatory of Music and continued with him at the Shenzhen School of Arts. In 1994, Chinese President Jiang Zemin listened to her performance and interviewed her along with Zhaoyi. Following her success in Leeds in 1996, she was offered a scholarship at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, where she studied with Joan Havill and earned a Master’s Degree in Performance. Chen also studied with Arie Vardi at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hannover, and now lives in Germany.
Major awards and honors began in 1994 for Chen, when she won first prize at the 1994 China International Piano Competition. Winning fourth prize in the 1996 Leeds International Piano Competition as the youngest contestant marked the beginning of Sa Chen’s international career. This was followed by Second Prize at the Dudley Millennium Competition (2000) and at Guildhall; the Spender Boney Memorial Prize (1999); the Silver Medal and Crystal Glass Trophy in the Gold Medal Concerto Competition (2000); First Prize of the Beethoven Competition (2000); and the Concert Recital Diploma Premier Prix of Guildhall (2000). She also participated at the 14th International Chopin Piano Competition in October 2000, at which she claimed the Best Polonaise Performance Award as well as the Fourth Prize overall. Her Crystal Award in the 12th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition solidified her reputation as one of the most outstanding pianists in the world today, and also made her the only pianist in history to be awarded in all the top three piano competitions.
As a soloist, Sa Chen has worked with many celebrated conductors such as Semyon Bychkov, Edo de Waart, Sir Simon Rattle, Leonard Slatkin, James Conlon, Louis Lane, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Ilan Volkov, Kazimierz Kord, Bernhard Gueller, Muhai Tang, Long Yu, Jan Krenz, and Howard Griffiths, several of whom offered return engagements. She has performed with, among many others, the Takács Quartet, the WDR Symphony Orchestra, the City of Birmingham Symphony, Camerata Salzburg, the Warsaw Philharmonic, the Israel Philharmonic, the Strasbourg Philharmonic, the China Philharmonic, the China National Symphony Orchestra, the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Fort Worth Symphony, the Bern Symphony Orchestra, the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra, the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra.
Her solo performances have taken Chen to many of the world’s leading music centers, including Washington, DC, London, Warsaw, Milan, Berlin, Zurich, Linz, Basel, Copenhagen, and Boston. Sa Chen has given concerts in the United States (her U.S. debut took place in April 2002), Canada, Asia (including Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tokyo), in Tel Aviv, and at Sydney Opera House in Australia. Among her many festival credits are the Duszniki Chopin Festival, Louisiana Museum, the Lockenhaus Chamber Festival, and Le Musiques festival. In China, she appeared at the Beijing Music Festival, the Steinway Piano Competition Festival, and the Gulangyu Piano Festival.
Chen has performed with renowned violinist Gidon Kremer, Nicolaj Znaider at the Kronberg Chamber Music Festival, and Kammermusikfest Lockenhaus. She toured with WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln under the direction of Semyon Bychkov in China. In March 2007, she was nominated by World Bank and the Norwegian government to premiere A Green Call, a multimedia piano concerto with the China National Symphony Orchestra in Beijing, sponsored by the World Bank, the Norwegian government, and the Environmental Education Media Project.
In the 2007/08 season, Chen toured again with Gidon Kremer. As a soloist, she performed twice with Hong Kong Philharmonic (Edo de Waart), the Buffalo Philharmonic (JoAnn Falletta), and the Gulbenkian Orchestra (Lawrence Foster) in addition to recitals in Strathmore Hall in Washington, DC; Esplanade Concert Hall in Singapore; Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space; and the National Center for Performing Arts.
In the 2008/09 season, Chen performs with the Los Angeles Philharmonic here at the Hollywood Bowl, and with the Bremen Philharmonic, the Orchestre National du Capitole in Toulouse, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (Edo de Waart), the Residentie De Haag (Edo de Waart), and the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony (Suntory Hall). She will tour with the Hong Kong Philharmonic in China, and participate again in the Lockenhaus Kammermusik Festival.
Chen appeared in In the Heart of Music, a film documentary about the 2005 Van Cliburn Competition that was aired on PBS stations across the United States. Gramophone magazine chose Sa Chen as its featured artist for the launch of its Chinese edition. A documentary about her, produced by RTHK, was telecast on the Hong Kong satellite TV network and CCTV. Sa Chen’s debut disc, Chopin Impression, was released in 2003 on the JVC label, and her second CD was released in 2005 on the Harmonia Mundi label. Her third CD — the two Chopin concertos – will be released in October 2008 on PentaTone.