It wasn’t love at first sight.
Claire Huangci was turning six years old, her family had just moved to a new house, and her parents wanted a grand piano.
“The arrival of the grand piano at our house coincided with my birthday,” the young American pianist, now 23, remembers. “But it was their spontaneous decision to buy one. I remember wishing for a different birthday gift.” Slowly, over the months, she tinkered with the piano—and after about a year, began taking lessons.
Huangci (it’s pronounced “whan-SEE”) was born in Rochester, New York, and both her parents were scientists. Why, we wondered, did they aim her toward such a different life?
“Believe me, they never sent me off in this direction,” she tells us. “It took a lot of convincing, and even now I’m sure a small part of them are regretting not having sent me off to med school.”
Huangci is a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, and currently studies in Germany at the Hochschule fur Musik, Theater und Medien in Hannover. She has played with the Philadelphia Orchestra, St. Petersburg Symphony, Munich Chamber Orchestra and others in the U.S. and Europe. In 2010, she took first prize at the Chopin National Piano Competition in Miami, and was a laureate of the Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition in Belgium. In 2011, she won second prize at the ARD Piano Competition, Germany’s most prestigious event. She has played at Carnegie Hall, the Salle Cortot in Paris, the Bonn Beethovenhaus and other venues, and has recorded her first CD for the Berlin Classics label.
She remembers making her debut at age seven with the Ocean City Pops Orchestra on the Jersey Shore. “It was in the summer, and the audience was full of children, balloons, cotton candy. I can’t imagine a better way to play the first time with an orchestra.” These days, she plays “so many” concert dates, but it’s clear she is thoroughly enjoying herself.
“Each concert has special moments,” she says. “Just yesterday, I performed Mozart Concerto No. 23 with the German Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, and it was almost surreal; the orchestra and conductor seemed almost telepathic in the way they understood what I wanted to express. I heard nuances I had never paid much attention to, in particular [with] the bassoon parts.”
Since she’s been in Germany, Huangci says, “I’ve developed a great fondness for cooking, and my friends here and I have cooking parties as often as possible, with each of us trying new recipes for one another.” She lists Rihanna, MUSE and Coldplay as current music favorites.
“I have almost no classical music on my iPod,” she adds. “And as recently as last year, I was also a big fan of K-pop, Bigbang and PSY Gangnam Style.”
As for classical composers, she says “Prokofiev is certainly one of my favorites, but I can’t put him above Bach, Beethoven, Chopin or Rachmaninov. My taste is very varied!”
Huangci has performed in San Antonio, Houston and El Paso in the past, and says she would like to explore the water parks in Fort Worth: “They look so beautiful!”
◊ Here is Claire Huangci performing in April 2013 at the Finals Gala of the American Pianists Association Classical Fellow Awards in Indianapolis. Huangci’s performance begins at 48 minutes into the video—which also showcases two other Cliburn contenders, Sara Daneshpour (before) and Eric Zuber (after) her performance of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3:
Claire Huangci's Van Cliburn International Piano Competition Repertoire:
Preliminary Recital, Phase I
BEETHOVEN Sonata No. 28 in A Major, op. 101
MENDELSSOHN Fantasy in F-sharp Minor, op. 28 ("Scottish Sonata")
RACHMANINOV Prelude in E Minor, op. 32, no. 4
RACHMANINOV Prelude in G Major, op. 32, no. 5
RACHMANINOV Prelude in F Minor, op. 32, no. 6
KAPUSTIN Prelude op. 40, no. 1
Preliminary Recital, Phase II
SCHUBERT Drei Klavierstücke, D. 946
TCHAIKOVSKY-PLETNEV Excerpts from "Sleeping Beauty"
TCHAIKOVSKY-PLETNEV Danse des Pages
TCHAIKOVSKY-PLETNEV Vision d'Aurore
TCHAIKOVSKY-PLETNEV La Fée d'Argent
TCHAIKOVSKY-PLETNEV Le Chat Botté et la Chatte Blanche
TCHAIKOVSKY-PLETNEV Le Canari qui chante
BEETHOVEN Sonata No. 26 in E-flat Major, op. 81a ("Les Adieux")
SCHUMANN Symphonic Etudes, op. 13
PROKOFIEV Romeo and Juliet before Parting, op. 75, no. 10
DVOŘÁK Piano Quintet in A Major, op. 81
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, op. 37
PROKOFIEV Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, op. 26
◊ To see a slideshow of all of the competitors, with bios and links to our profiles of them, click here.