a portrait of shuann sitting on the floor near her historical piano
Shuann Chai is a versatile pianist who performs on a wide range of early to modern pianos.
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Allowing her playing to speak for itself, Chai took to the stage in a truly humble yet fresh way. Her touch on the keys gave an impression not only of clear artistic ownership of the repertoire but also a sensitive grasp on the resonance of the strings in the instrument.

Bachtrack

For Shuann, music is a personal means of communication. She sees performance as an opportunity to connect with an audience, as well as a chance to bring the emotional content of music from the past to listeners in the present.
“A performance is like a snapshot of where you are that day. It’s something that evolves over time.”

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For this recording, Shuann dives into Schubert’s Impromptus and early fugues and doing so, she creates her own Schubert.
The last decades there's this approach to Schubert that you don't do anything that's not in the score. I always felt that there was an element of narration missing, an element of storytelling, and a deep and very subjective emotion. So then you have to stick your neck out and interpret and do things that are not on the page to create your own Schubert.

fun facts

Studied the viola as a secondary instrument and still has a soft spot for the sound of an open C string

Most picturesque concert hall she ever played in? Troldsalen in Bergen, Norway: the lakeside cottage where Grieg wrote much of his music is visible from the stage...

Loves studying languages and recently earned her A2 certificate in Japanese

Started piano lesson at age 5 at the local YWCA

As a child, she collected vintage postage stamps, shark teeth, and fossils

Alongside her piano studies, she graduated from Oberlin College with a degree in biology

She was born in Gainsville, Florida, (USA) where her dad was a NASA Scientist

Lives in The Hague,
the Netherlands

She grew up helping in her mom's Chinese restaurant and is still an avid cook of all cuisines

While performing, Shuann is a real storyteller. This comes from an enduring interest in narrative and its context, and in bringing the music to life.
“What draws me into a piece of music is the stories the music can tell. What can we learn about the composer? About their time, their emotions? And what’s happening in this piece, is there action, or romance, or suspense…? If I find an emotional connection to the music, others can connect with it too.”

bio at a glance

Upcoming Recordings
Cobra Records, January 2024
Schubert Impromptus
Sony Records Japan, April 2024
Boxed set of Brahms Piano Trios, Cello Sonatas, and Violin Sonatas
with Shunske Sato, violin and Hidemi Suzuki, cello
Cobra Records, release date TBA
Boxed set of Beethoven violin sonatas
with Shunske Sato, violin
Selected
Recent Performances

De Doelen Rotterdam • Stadsgehoorzaal Leiden • Orlando Festival (NL) • Utrecht Early Music Festival • Suntory Hall Blue Rose (Tokyo) • Izumi Hall (Osaka) • Fukinoto Hall (Sapporo) • Ferdinandeum Museum (Innsbruck) • National Concert Hall of Taipei • Les Musicales de Normandie (France) • Gloppen Musikkfest (Norway)

Recent Collaborations

Hidemi Suzuki (cello) • Shunske Sato (violin) • Steuart Pincombe (cello) • Mattijs van de Woerd (baritone) • Noa Frenkel (alto) • the Dudok String Quartet

Selected
Masterclasses and Workshops

Temple University • University of California at Davis • CodArts Rotterdam • Conservatorium of Amsterdam • Conservatorium of Maastricht • Gulanyu Piano Academy of Xiamen (China) • Central Conservatory of Beijing

Shuann curated her own fortepiano Festival in Zaandijk

Engaging and creative, she initiated a number of multimedia projects. Working with other musicians, dancers, puppets, images, or texts, she is constantly searching for ways to share her passion for music, from the baroque to newly written compositions.
“In projects that combine music with something else, it is important to me that the musicians are a dynamic, interactive part of the show and not just accompanying from the side wings of the stage.”

Music & more

Amadeus
An Opera2Day/National Theater co-production

Pre-recorded piano performance for the character of Mozart, coached actors in onstage piano-playing

Where are we going? And what are we doing?
A Korzo/Cadance co-production

Modern dance, music of John Cage

Fairy Tales & Nightmares
A Korzo/Stichting Ciaconna co-production

Modern dance, music of Prokofiev, and life-size puppet by Duda Paiva

Beethoven in his own words

The complete Beethoven Sonatas performed with excerpts from his letters and some of his songs

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One of the most impressive aspects of the evening was to experience just how eloquent and well-versed Chai is. Graciously taking the microphone after her interpretation of the Pathétique, she shed some human light on the highly complicated and moving passages we had just heard.

Bachtrack

“I think of pianos as an extensive family tree, without a stark ‘historical/modern’ division, and I feel it is my task to get to know the piano that is in front of me. It plays a role in every interpretation, because each piano has its own character, its own voice.”
view her collection
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Johann Andreas Stein
Augsburg, 1785
copy by Philip Belt
Michael Rosenberger
Vienna, 1820
on loan from the NMF
Collard & Collard
London, 1840
Steinway & Sons
New York, Model D 371
Erard
Paris 1862
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Calendar

Friday
Mar 8
2024
Solo Recital
Beethoven: Mondschein Sonata
Bij Andreas, Naarden
Tickets →
Monday
May 13
2024
Duo recital with Shunske Sato
Bach, Joachim, Mozart, Händel, Beethoven

reconstruction of a recital by Joseph Joachim

HÄNDEL FESTSPIELE, GÖTTINGEN | AULA DER UNIVERSITÄT
Tickets →
Friday
May 17
2024
Dudok Muziekdagen Kampen

Duo recital with Shunske Sato

Sint Annakapel, Kampen
Tickets →
Tuesday
May 21
2024
Duo Recital with Shunske Sato
Bach Mish-Mash: Bach, Bartók, Rachmaninoff, Poulenc, Schumann
ERBDROSTENHOF MÜNSTER
Tickets →
Friday
May 24
2024
Duo Recital with Shunske Sato
Music from WWI: Ravel, Debussy, Elgar, Hindemith
Aalmarktzaal, Leiden
Tickets →

Interview

Podcast Piano Whisperer
The life of a concert pianist
listen to the podcast
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portrait of Shuann at the piano
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Stimulating... Chai has a keen sense for the colouristic possibilities of her instrument

BBC Music Magazine

albums

Extemporize

Schubert Impromptus & Fugues

Cobra Records (January 2024)

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Kühl, nicht Lau

works by Kühlau & Beethoven with flutist Tami Krausz

Ramée Records (2020)

listen
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Beethoven Sonatas

Pathétique, Moonlight, Appassionata

Postern Park Digital (2011)

listen
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Scent of Pink

song cycle by René Samson with alto Noa Frenkel

Concertzender live recording (2019)

listen
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Shuann loves teaching.
“It is so humbling when someone plays for you and entrusts themselves to your musicianship in such a way. I think of teaching as a dynamic interface where my aesthetic and their intentions meet. The energy and enthusiasm of young musicians is so moving, and I absolutely love being a part of that process.”
If she is not playing, practicing, or teaching, chances are you will find Shuann cooking, reading a book, being with her daughter or enjoying friends and family.

Contact

Personal assistant &
artist manager
Marloes Biermans