A few weeks ago Claire Huangci was in Switzerland performing a series of concerts. From there she jetted off to Texas where she was one of the 30 semi-finalists in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. She’ll come directly from the Cliburn – one of the most prestigious piano competitions in the world – to perform at the Southeastern Piano Festival.
Claire began performing in major venues and with orchestras when she was a teenager and at 23 has already forged a remarkable career. That’s even more impressive since she didn’t seriously consider a performing career until she was 15.
Her parents, who came to the U.S. from China to attend college and decided to stay, purchased a piano when she was six. She took lessons and explored the piano on her own.
“I wasn’t all that interested at the time and they never expected it to lead to anything,” she said. She planned to be a doctor following in the footsteps of her biologist father and chemist mother, but she kept playing and studying, entering the pre-college program at the Curtis Institute of Music at 13. There was no “ah-ha” moment when it became apparent that music was her calling, Clair said, but “a long accumulation of various events.” And when she got to Curtis she was surrounded by students who had decided very early on that music was their life.
“They were all very serious about it and that spurred me on to work harder,” Claire said.
After four years at Curtis she moved to Germany and is starting work on an advanced degree (the equivalent of a doctorate in the U.S.) at the Hannover Hochschule für Musik.
Claire debuted with the Philadelphia Orchestra and has performed at the St. Petersburg Hermitage Theater with the St. Petersburg Symphony, the Ravinia and Caramoor festivals, Bonn Beethovenhaus, Salzburg Mozarteum and the Shanghai EXPO with Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra. She won First Prize in the Europäischer Chopin Klavierwettbewerb in Germany, the Orpheum Music Prize in Switzerland and the National Chopin Piano Competition. In April she was one of five finalists for the American Pianists Association Award.
At the Festival she will perform works by Mendelssohn, Rachmaninoff, Schubert, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev.
“These are pieces I like a lot and feel I have something to say about them and can add something new,” she said.
All the works are also what she’ll play for the Cliburn competition. How that will go, she’s not sure.
“Competitions can be really surprising,” she said. “You can never really be sure how they’ll turn out. I’m really happy to be in it – it’s going to be a big one.”