“I was born in Los Angeles,” says American pianist Steven Lin, 24. “I went back to Taiwan shortly after I was born, and lived there for 10 years.”
But, he adds, “I grew up as a Lakers fan!” (A variation of “Lakers Rule!” is part of his e-mail address.) Lin never lost his connection to the U.S., or his love for basketball; and at age 10 he came back to America (with his Mom) to participate in The Juilliard School’s Pre-College Division, a program for very young artists.
“We lived in New Jersey for eight years,” he remembers, and he commuted into New York to take classes at Juilliard—where he continues now to pursue his degree in music.
“I didn’t decide to ‘do’ music until I was 17,” he recalls. “But I already had a very memorable experience, playing my first time with an orchestra—the Orlando Philharmonic—when I was 12 years old.” A year later, at age 13, he made his New York debut with the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall.
In 2012, Lin took first place at the Concert Artists Guild Victor Elmaleh Competition and third place both at the William Kapell and the Hilton Head International Piano Competitions. That same year, he was also a semifinalist at the Leeds competition in England. He’s been a soloist with orchestras in Baltimore, Orlando, Tulsa and more—and memorably, played a 2012 concert with the Sendai Symphony Orchestra in Japan under rather unusual circumstances.
There was an earthquake. Lin was playing Haydn, and about two minutes into his performance, the concert hall began to shake—and kept it up for nearly 40 seconds. Lin didn’t miss a note—or even look up from his playing.
“I did realize that it was shaking, and remember being confused about what was happening,” he tells us. “But I was just trying to concentrate. After the stage stopped shaking, I realized it must be an earthquake.”
What does Lin do for fun in New York? He and Juilliard friends used to play video games in the dorm, but not so much now. “And I used to play basketball, which is probably the worst sport for pianists!” (Jammed fingers ─ not good.) As he gets older, he says, “I spend more and more time in music.”
But he would like to “maybe go to a basketball game” when he’s in Texas (he may have to settle for baseball), and doesn’t seem to mind being asked to compare a piano competition to a basketball game.
“Basketball and piano are totally opposite,” he says, getting into the spirit of the thing. “In basketball, you have scores and time to determine the winner. In piano competitions, you have a jury who is judging based on how they feel about each competitor. Even though there is a scoring system, it is always subjective. So for me, I don’t look at a ‘piano competition’ as an actual competition. I see it more as a performance opportunity.”
◊ Here is a video of Steven Lin (and the earthquake) playing a Haydn sonata at 2012’s Sendai competition:
Steven Lin's Van Cliburn International Piano Competition Repertoire:
Preliminary Recital, Phase I
BACH Overture in the French Style, BWV 831
MENDELSSOHN Fantasy in F-sharp Minor, op. 28 ("Scottish Sonata")
VINE Sonata No. 1
Preliminary Recital, Phase II
HAYDN Sonata in C Major, Hob. XVI:50
CHOPIN Impromptu No. 1 in A-flat Major, op. 29
CHOPIN Impromptu No. 2 in F-sharp Major, op. 36
CHOPIN Impromptu No. 3 in G-flat Major, op. 51
LISZT Réminiscences de Don Juan (after Mozart)
BEETHOVEN Sonata No. 18 in E-flat Major, op. 31, no. 3
SCHUMANN Kinderszenen, op. 15
STRAVINSKY Trois mouvements de Pétrouchka
DVOŘÁK Piano Quintet in A Major, op. 81
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, op. 15
PROKOFIEV Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, op. 16
◊ To see a slideshow of all of the competitors, with bios and links to our profiles of them, click here.