Renowned pianist Zhang makes his Seattle debut

By Alia Marsha
Northwest Asian Weekly

Haochen Zhang (Photo by Benjamin Ealovega)

Pianist Haochen Zhang was first introduced to classical music when he was still in the womb. His mother, who was learning English at the time, came across an article in Reader’s Digest about the effects of classical music — specifically the piano, which is polyphonic — on the development of both sides of a child’s brain.

Growing up in Shanghai, Zhang would hum along to songs when his parents held karaoke nights. “My mom thought, ‘You have shown an ear for music, and you might be talented. Why not get you started?’” Zhang recalled. “That’s how I got started.”

When he was 4 years old, Zhang’s mother bought him an upright piano. Soon after, he performed a solo recital at the Shanghai Concert Hall, the biggest concert hall in the area at the time. By age 8, he had turned professional and auditioned for the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, the first music institution of higher education in China.

“Even though I wasn’t aware about these things, I knew subconsciously that piano wasn’t just a hobby,” Zhang said of his early years.

After training at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music and the Shenzhen Arts School, Zhang studied under well-known pianist Gary Graffman at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. He has since called Philadelphia home.

Zhang made his debut with the New York Youth Symphony in Carnegie Hall at age 18. A year later, he became the youngest pianist to receive the prestigious Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Gold Medal award at the 13th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Now, at age 23, Zhang has turned from a child prodigy to a world-renowned pianist.

In March, Zhang will perform for the first time with the Seattle Symphony in its sixth annual Celebrate Asia concert. The concert will feature central European romanticism, while also staying with Asian themes. He cited the “German Giants,” namely Bach, Schubert, and Schumann, among others, as his favorite composers. He feels closest to the German ethos and approach to music, he said, which is “very expressive, but disciplined, making it very enduring.” (end)

Celebrate Asia is presented by the Seattle Symphony and will be held in Benaroya Hall, on March 21, at 7:30 p.m.

Alia Marsh can be reached at

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