Shuann Chai is an active and engaging performer, recognised for her interpretations on a wide range of historical pianos as well as the modern piano.
She began piano lessons at age 5 in a group class at the local YWCA and had a number of wonderful teachers in her early years, including Jack Radunsky, a former student of the pianist/composer Percy Grainger. His lessons instilled a great interest and admiration of early recordings and of the Romantic Tradition of piano playing, and with his encouragement she first attended a masterclass given by fortepianist Malcolm Bilson. Shuann was 14 at the time, and these influences were the sparks that led to her enduring relationship with historical pianos.
After earning degrees from Oberlin (Bachelor in Biology as well as Bachelor in Piano with Fortepiano minor) and the New England Conservatory (Master in Piano), Shuann studied privately with Norma Fisher in London, Claus-Christian Schuster (former pianist of the Altenberg Trio), and worked extensively with Canadian pianist Anton Kuerti. After being based in Boston for more than a decade, Shuann moved permanently to the Netherlands in 2007, where she studied at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague.
Concerto performances include last year’s Beethoven Festival Zutphen, where she was the soloist in Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, conducted by Jan Willem de Vriend; Mendelssohn’s 1st Concerto with the New Dutch Academy, and Beethoven’s 2nd Concerto with the Bloomington Early Music Festival Orchestra under Stanley Ritchie. Festival and other concert appearances include La Folle Journée (Tokyo), Bach en Combrailles (France), Troldsalen (Norway), St. Cecilia’s Hall (Edinburgh), Jordan Hall (Boston), Forbidden City Concert Hall (Beijing), and the American Church of Paris. She was also invited to give the first solo recital in the newly built Hertz Zaal in Utrecht’s TivoliVredenburg in 2014.
Shuann regularly gives masterclasses and lecture recitals at institutions such as Temple University, University of California (Davis), University of Edinburgh, Gulanyu Piano Academy (Xiamen, China) and Central Conservatory in Beijing. She has also been active in community outreach on both sides of the Atlantic, having performed hundreds of concerts in care facilities, senior living centers, music schools, and libraries. Since 2011 she has been the artistic director of the annual Pianoforte Festival Zaandijk, now in its eighth year.
Shuann’s regular chamber music colleagues include violinists Shunske Sato and Sarah Kapustin, cellists Hidemi Suzuki and Viola de Hoog, and baritone Mattijs van de Woerd. In 2014 she began the Archduke Ensemble, a mixed-instrument collective dedicated to performing chamber music on historical instruments in the Classical and Romantic tradition.
In 2012 Shuann’s debut CD of three Beethoven Sonatas on the fortepiano was released, garnering enthusiastic reviews in publications such as Fanfare Magazine (“…bristling with excitement… a real ear-opener”), BBC Music Magazine (“Stimulating… Chai has a keen sense for the colouristic possibilities of her instrument”), and the Classical Music Sentinel (“…played with a determination and urgency that makes Beethoven’s music sound larger than life”). The experience of recording the CD gave Shuann the impetus to embark on a larger-scale project of performing all 32 of Beethoven’s piano sonatas on historical instruments; she expects to complete the cycle by the end of 2018. Upcoming projects include a series of video recordings for the Beethoven Sonatas as well as a collaboration with Belgian-Iranian photographer Mashid Mohadjerin, featuring contemporary photography synced with a live performance of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.
Among other things, Shuann Chai is grateful for having three inspiring musical companions: a concert grand Steinway signed by jazz legends Herbie Hancock and Ahmad Jamal; an original Érard piano (1861), and an original 1820 Rosenberger fortepiano, generously provided on permanent loan by the National Musical Instruments Foundation of the Netherlands (NMF).