Sixteen-year-old Anna Han’s voice on the other line of the phone speaks softly about her love of music.
But watching a video of the young — but acclaimed — musician leaves little doubt: She’s completely at home sitting in front of a piano. Her hands move across the keys with ease, as she’s swept away by the music she plays.
That passion paid off last month for Anna as she won the Stecher and Horowitz Foundations’ sixth New York International Piano Competition.
The invitation-only event for pianists between 16 and 21 brought together 22 performers from around the world.
During the weeklong event, Anna and the others showed their skills multiple times, first through the playing of prepared music, then through their interpretations of a new piece created by Avner Dorman just for the competition.
That, Anna said, was the biggest challenge.
“He created these three etudes. The first one is very strong and exciting. The second one is a funeral march. The third one, ‘Sun drops over windy water’… there’s a lot of color in it,” Anna explains. “Each of the movements were very different. Since nobody had played the pieces before, we had no recordings and no pre-minded conception of how we should play the pieces. It was based on our own way of looking at the piece and how we felt about the piece. We made our own story.”
Anna’s parents started her in piano lessons at age 5 “for fun.” From the beginning, she’s been trained by Fei Xu.
By 11, she made her orchestral debut with the Chandler Symphony Orchestra.
An online video shows a 12-year-old Anna impressively performing Mozart’s Sonata in D.
“When (my parents) were young, they weren’t musicians. They didn’t have the chance to learn music so they wanted to give me the opportunity. It’s turned into something bigger than we imagined,” she says.
How big? Anna’s already performed with the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra — twice. Last year, she won first prize at the 2011 New Orleans International Piano Competition for Young Artists and the International Institute for Young Musicians International Piano Competition, a title she also won in 2008.
To prepare for the New York International Piano Competition, Anna spent seven hours a day practicing her skills. Attending school online through Arizona Virtual Academy — something she’s done since eighth grade — makes that possible.
She hopes to graduate in the next year or two then continue improving her craft.
“I definitely want to major in piano performance during college. If I can grow up to be a concert pianist, that’s my dream,” she says, noting a desire to study on the East Coast, partly inspired by her trip to New York.
“New York City was great because there are a lot of cultural activities going on. It’s an exciting place for a young person to be.”
But to get there, Anna said there’s still much to do.
“It’s been my dream for a long time to be a concert pianist. A lot of times I make sacrifices — many hours of practice. Sometimes I can’t do all the things I want to because I need to protect my hands. I think just learning music has changed the way I look at a lot of things. It’s taught me dedication and hard work. It’s given me a way to express a lot of things I can’t express through words.”
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