SoCal pianist Sean Chen wins Annenberg arts fellowship


Southern California pianist Sean Chen has won a $100,000 award, one of five 2015 grants announced Tuesday by the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship Fund for the Performing and Visual Arts.

The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania administers the fund. It awards $50,000 a year for up to two years to artists deemed especially talented and on the verge of a professional breakthrough.

Chen was the only one of the five to win the grant for two years. Other recipients include soprano Julia Bullock; visual artist Caitlin Cherry; actor, writer and filmmaker McKenzie Chinn; and American Ballet Theatre soloist Joseph Gorak.


The fund has given more than $5 million to artists in the last eight years, enabling them to create work, travel, train, build studios or pay for living expenses, healthcare and other necessities.

The fellows are chosen in consultation with arts organizations, including ABT, the Yale School of Drama and the Juilliard School. During their fellowships, grant recipients work with mentors chosen by these partners and members of the fund.

Chen grew up in the Ventura County community of Oak Park and currently lives in New Haven, Conn. When he heard he would receive the fellowship for two years, he immediately called his girlfriend and his parents, who shared his excitement.

“It will allow me to buy and maintain my own piano,” Chen said, adding that the grant also will help to pay for promotional necessities such as website design as well as travel not covered by performance presenters. “I would also like to invest in audio and computer equipment to be able to record and evaluate my playing as well as further my composition interests.”

The pianist said he’s also looking forward to working with Robert Blocker, dean of the Yale School of Music, who will be mentoring and advising Chen for two years.

Chen won the attention of the fellowship fund while getting his two-year artist diploma at the Yale School of Music, which nominated him for the Annenberg award. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Juilliard School.


He won third prize at the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 2013, making him the first American to reach the finals since 1997. That year he also won the American Pianists Assn.’s Christel DeHaan Classical Fellowship.

Chen has performed as a soloist with major orchestras and has released recordings with the Parma, Harmonia Mundi and Steinway labels. You can find out more about him at

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