Season finale guest artist Zhang first wowed audiences at the age of 5
In demand internationally for nearly a decade now, Haochen Zhang first rose to prominence with his 2009 win at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition at just 19. However, his musical journey began much, much earlier: As a kindergartner, while friends were playing in the sandbox, Zhang was playing Mozart to great acclaim in his native China.
The Early Years
When Zhang was introduced to the piano a few months before his 4th birthday, he says it looked like a big toy to him, and when his mom asked if he’d like to learn to play, he embraced the opportunity. He says his mom “felt like I learned the piano faster than other children at the same age.”
At age 5, he dazzled a Shanghai Concert Hall audience with his interpretations of music by Bach, Mozart, and Haydn. By 6, he had debuted with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. When he was 11, Zhang toured major cities across China performing Beethoven, Mozart, and Chopin.
Success and accolades continued and in 2002, at 12 years of age, Zhang became the youngest winner in the history of the International Tchaikovsky Competition for Young Musicians.
Coming to America
2005 marked a turning point as Zhang came to the US to study at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia under Gary Graffman, who also taught major stars like Lang Lang and Yuja Wang. It was a challenging time for the young prodigy, especially after mom’s visa expired and she had to return home to China, leaving fifteen-year-old Zhang to make his way on his own in a foreign country and with limited English language skills.
“I had learned to speak English before I came to the States, but only to the degree of simple conversation and very basic reading. Of course, I had to suffer quite a bit in my first school year in the States. But that was nothing compared to a much bigger challenge: the culture shock of an utterly different environment, and the loneliness of living by myself for the first time.”—Haochen Zhang remembering his move to the U.S. at 15.
Zhang’s Big Break
Zhang garnered international attention in 2009 when he won gold at the 13th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition—arguably the highest-profile piano competition in the world, which is held every four years in Fort Worth, TX. At 19, Zhang became the second youngest ever winner of the gold medal and the first from an Asian country.
Life After Gold
After winning the $20,000 cash prize, a recording contract, and a raft of international concert tour dates, Zhang embarked on a three-year tour across the United States, Americas, Asia and Europe, playing an astonishing 200 concerts at top venues across the globe. In 2017, he won the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant, awarded to only 5 outstanding musicians each year. He also released his first studio album CD the same year.
Now 27 years old, Haochen Zhang performs the immense and challenging Brahms Piano Concerto №2 in the California Symphony season finale concert SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW under Music Director Donato Cabrera at the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek on Sunday May 6 at 4PM.
“Brahms has always been one of my favorite composers, and this concerto certainly has given me an overwhelming joy everytime I listened or played it. It’s a perfect embodiment of this combination of grandness and intimacy and is perhaps why it’s so enduringly charming yet so challenging to interpret.” — Haochen Zhang on Brahms Piano Concerto №2.
For information and tickets, visit www.californiasymphony.org.