San Jose Teen to Compete in the Cliburn Junior Piano Competition

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Sarah Tuan of San Jose is one of just 24 pianists aged 13-17 due to compete in the 2019 Cliburn International Junior Piano Competition. (Courtesy of Cliburn)

A local 16 year-old born and raised in San Jose flies to Dallas Tuesday to play in one of the most prestigious piano competitions on the planet.

Sarah Tuan, a junior at Valley Christian High School, says she practices four to five hours a day. She loves Chopin, along with origami, bubble milk tea, and cats. But right now her focus is Chopin.

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Why classical music? It’s not just that her mom is a piano teacher. "I feel like there’s a lot of um very complicated classical stories told in classical music. You know, bringing a very traditional art to the modern world, I think it’s something very exciting and fascinating for me to do." Tuan has been playing piano for 10 years now.

A student now of Cal State Fullerton's Ning An who's been been featured on NPR’s From the Top, Tuan has won several competitions already. But the Cliburn International Junior Piano Competition is of the world’s toughest for pianists aged 13-17.

230 teenagers from 32 countries applied to compete. Just 24 were accepted. Tuan has prepared 10 pieces to play in three rounds, including the Chopin Etude in G-sharp Minor.

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"Especially in these last few days, it’s like, you know, a runner sprinting to finish the last lap of a marathon," Tuan said.

The sports analogy is an apt one. One of the judges has said these kids are all capable of making a living from their musical talent, something quite rare these days.

The competition hopes to excite the ambitions of contestants at a key moment in their young lives, and turn them towards doing this professionally for the rest of us. Tuan says she hasn’t made her mind up yet about a career as a pianist, but she’ll do something involving music.

"It definitely has to be related to music because I really can’t imagine myself doing anything else."

  • May 31–June 1, 2019 – Preliminary Round
  • June 2–3, 2019 – Quarterfinal Round
  • June 5–6, 2019 – Semifinal Round
  • June 8, 2019 – Final Round and Awards Ceremony

The entire competition will be webcast live at cliburn.org.

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