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Meet the Artists: Renowned Pianists to Perform at 36th International Piano Festival

UH Moores School of Music presents the annual audience favorite, full of exciting performances and masterclasses, from January 31 – February 2, 2019.

Founded in 1984 by masterful pianist Abbey Simon, Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of Houston, the Moores School of Music’s (MSM) International Piano Festival (IPF) brings several of the world’s greatest pianists to Houston for a weekend to celebrate both the artist and the instrument. From January 31 – February 2, IPF offers students and music enthusiasts across Houston the chance to enjoy live performances and masterclasses by featured guest and faculty pianists. Get to know this year’s musicians below!

The Rising Star: Sean Chen
Homebase: Kansas City, Oklahoma
Hobby: Tinkering with computers in his “spare time”
What the critics are saying: “He is so fluid in his playing, with a springtime rain shower of notes gently falling in runs up and down the piano keys. Not that he doesn’t quickly move across the keys, as well. He sprinted across them many times during his performance.” — Times Record News

American pianist Sean Chen wins hearts and awards through his performances. The highly acclaimed artist earned the 2013 American Pianists Awards and ranked third in the 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition with his engaging, magnetic recitals. He has played both live and recorded shows across the U.S., including NPR’s “From the Top” and American Public Media’s “Performance Today.” Recognized by International Piano Magazine in 2014 as “One to Watch,” Chen offers audiences memorable and moving performances. 

Sean Chen will hold a recital on Thursday, January 31 at 7:30 p.m. in Moores Opera House. His repertoire includes Chopin, Scriabin, Godowsky, Chopin-Lisz and Rachmaninoff. He will also give a masterclass on Saturday, February 2 at 9 a.m. in Dudley Recital Hall.

Painstaking Performer: Alexander Kobrin
Nickname: Dubbed the “Van Cliburn of today” by the BBC
Noteworthy award: Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Gold Medal at the 12th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 2015
What the critics are saying: “He surrendered neither the smoothness nor the dynamic fluidity that the modern piano allows, and he gave his sense of fantasy free rein, using a shapely bass line to suggest drama in the opening Allegro and creating an almost confessional spirit in the central Andante cantabile." — New York Times

Guest artist Alexander Kobrin’s remarkably detailed work has taken him to major halls around the world, including Avery Fisher Hall in New York, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, Salle Cortot in Paris, Herkulessaal in Munich and Berliner Philharmonie Hall in Berlin. His dramatic performances have also earned him several awards, such as first prize in the Ferruccio Busoni International Piano Competition and top prize in the Hamamatsu International Piano Competition. As a mentor, Kobrin inspires students with masterclasses in both Europe and Asia. 

Kobrin will hold a recital on Saturday, February 2 at 7:30 p.m. in Moores Opera House. His repertoire includes Schubert and Brahms. He will also give a masterclass on Friday, February 1 at 3 p.m. in Dudley Recital Hall.

Super-virtuoso: Abbey Simon
Expansive career: The nonagenarian began his nearly decade-long career at age 3
What critics are saying: “Simon’s recital offered more than a glimpse into the fabled golden age of piano playing… His virtuosity is marked not only by speed, power, lightness and accuracy but also by intricate interplay of voices and lambent colors.” — Boston Globe

International Piano Festival founder Abbey Simon’s performances have cemented him as an artist from both the 20th and 21st century, according to West coast critic Scott MacClelland. For his impressive recitals, Simon received the Naumburg Award, National Federation of Music Clubs award, National School Orchestra Association Award and a Ford Foundation Award. He is one of the most recorded and distinguished classical artists of all time. Simon is now a professor at UH Moores School of Music and has been inspiring students for nearly 40 years.

Abbey Simon will give a masterclass on Saturday, February 2 at 2:30 p.m. in Dudley Recital Hall.  

Performing Philosopher: Timothy Hester
Teaching goal: Help students understand the intertwining relationship between solo performance, piano pedagogy and accompanying chamber music

Director of Keyboard Collaborative Arts and Professor of Piano Timothy Hester works to pass his wisdom and love of music to his students to encourage them to do the same with others. Hester, who studied at The Juilliard School and UH, has collaborated with acclaimed artists, including Adele Marcus and Albert Hirsh. A passionate pianist, he has performed at Carnegie Recital Hall, National Concert Hall of Taiwan, Texas Music Festival, Jones Hall, Wortham Center and the Moores Opera House. 

Pianistic Firecracker: Tali Morgulis
Major musical inspirations and influences: Rachmaninov, Lutosławski, and Brazilian and Argentinian artists 

Tali Morgulis’ powerful, contemporary works have earned her a spot in many orchestras and prizes in several competitions. Morgulis began her musical journey at age five and has since been awarded the Special Prize for the Best Performance of a Classical Composition and the award for Highest Artistic Achievements from the University of Zagreb Academy of Music among others. As an associate professor of piano at UH, Morgulis encourages her students to approach music insightfully, according to her pupils.

Worldly Artist: Nancy Weems
Groundbreaking recording: “Classical Hollywood” was nominated for a Grammy in 1990

Nancy Weems once represented the U.S. in an international concert tour across Norway, Denmark, Iceland and the USSR. Now, she exemplifies the best of UH Moores School of Music through her experience and mentorship. A Madison Endowed Professor of Music with over four decades of experience, Weems has performed all over the world, including international tours to Mexico, Jamaica, Trinidad and Costa Rica. Her extensive recital background has given her the skills to help her students win top awards in both national and international competitions.

Timothy Hester, Tali Morgulis and Nancy Weems will hold a recital on Friday, February 1 at 7:30 p.m. in Moores Opera House.