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Student ready for 2017 Van Cliburn Competition

An interview with doctoral candidate EunAe Lee on why she chose Northwestern’s Bienen School of Music for continuing her piano studies

EVANSTON - EunAe Lee, a student at Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music, will perform in the prestigious Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. The quadrennial competition will take place May 26 to June 10 at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, Texas.

Lee is a current doctoral candidate at Northwestern studying with associate professor James Giles.

Lee, who grew up in Korea, started piano lessons when she was five, but by age nine, she discovered she loved to play for people and knew then she wanted to play professionally.

“The piano can sing, the piano can be part of an orchestra. You can imitate any instrument on the piano. To me, the piano is the whole world of music,” Lee said.

“Music is language to me. When I came to the states, I couldn’t speak the language. Piano provides a way to communicate and touch someone’s heart.”

Lee’s teacher James Giles will be in Fort Worth, Texas to support his student and cheer her on.

“Competitions are a celebration of the music we play, an important showcase for a young pianist’s abilities and an opportunity to play for important people. In a competition like the Van Cliburn, the media glare is extremely intense. There are television cameras everywhere, international press and interviews. These are extraneous things that don’t have anything to do with playing the piano. At this point preparing is a large part mental and about getting into a zone so she can do what she knows how to do,” Giles said.

View the EunAe Lee video profile for more information about how her studies at Northwestern prepared her for this legendary event.

Held once every four years since 1962, the Cliburn Competition is named for Texas-born pianist Van Cliburn, who famously won the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958.  Since its founding the Cliburn event has identified and ushered a host of exceptional artists to international prominence.  

Lee was among 290 applicants worldwide who submitted performance videos and resumes to the screening jury. Approximately 146 pianists from 28 countries were granted the opportunity to perform 40-minute recitals in Shanghai, Moscow, Hanover, Budapest, London, New York and Fort Worth.

The jury rated candidates on artistic vision, stamina and readiness to embark on an international career as a concert pianist.

Lee auditioned at the PepsiCo Recital Hall in Fort Worth, Texas on Feb. 18. She performed Haydn Sonata in B-flat Major, Hob. 16/41, Debussy Etude “Pour les arpèges composés” and Chopin Sonata No. 3. 

The 2017 Cliburn competitors hail from all over the world, representing 16 nations and locales: Russia, South Korea, the United States, Canada, Italy, Algeria, Austria, China, Croatia, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Poland, Romania, Taiwan and the United Kingdom. There are 21 men and nine women, and the competitors range in age from 18 to 30.

Competition performances will be live streamed on the Cliburn website, and the final round on Saturday, June 10 will be broadcast in partnership with Fathom Events at select movie theaters nationwide. Chicago area screenings include Century 12 Evanston/CinéArts 6 in Evanston and River East 21, City North Stadium 14 and Webster Place 11 in Chicago.  

About EunAe Lee

EunAe Lee from Seoul, South Korea, is a prizewinner of the 2015 Bösendorfer USASU International Piano Competition, the 2014 Hilton Head International Piano Competition and the 2016 World Piano Teachers Association International Piano Competition. She also earned the Alice Rosnet Prize for her interpretation of Béla Bartók and the Bärenreiter Urtext Prize in the 2011 ARD International Music Competition in Munich. Lee was featured at the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts and the Pianoforte Salon Series, both broadcast live on WFMT 98.7 FM. Performance highlights include solo and chamber appearances in Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre, Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage and Merkin Hall, among others. Lee holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Juilliard School and an artist diploma from the Mannes College of Music, where she studied with renowned American pianist Richard Goode. Lee is a doctoral candidate at Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music and a student of James Giles associate professor, piano.

About the Cliburn

The Cliburn advances classical piano music throughout the world. Its international competitions, education programs and concert series embody an enduring commitment to artistic excellence and the discovery of new artists. Established in 1962, the quadrennial Van Cliburn International Piano Competition is widely recognized as "one of the world's highest-visibility classical music contests" (The Dallas Morning News) and remains committed to its original ideals of supporting and launching the careers of young artists, ages 18 - 30. It shares the transformative powers of music with a wide global audience through fully-produced webcasts and by providing commission-free, comprehensive career management and concert bookings to its winners. Rounding out its mission, the Cliburn also produces the Cliburn International Junior Piano Competition and Festival for exceptional 13 to 17-year-old pianists (second edition, June 2019) and the Cliburn International Amateur Piano Competition for outstanding non-professional pianists age 35 and older (eighth edition, June 2020).

Over a four-year cycle, the Cliburn contributes to North Texas’ cultural landscape with more than 170 classical music performances for 150,000 attendees through competitions, free community concerts and its signature Cliburn Concerts series at Bass Performance Hall, the Kimbell Art Museum Piano Pavilion and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. It presents 1,000 in-school, interactive music education programs for more than 200,000 elementary students. During the same time period, it garners the world’s attention with more than one million visits by people from 155 nations for live concert and competition webcasts; 300 concerts worldwide booked for competition winners; more than 5,000 news articles about the Cliburn and its winners; regular national broadcasts to 245 public radio stations; and a PBS documentary airing in a potential 105 million households. Detailed information about the Cliburn and its programs is available at

The Bienen School of Music is a member of the Northwestern Arts Circle, which brings together film, humanities, literary arts, music, theater, dance and visual arts. Search for events across all artistic disciplines at Northwestern Arts Circle.