Richard Hadar: Kwan Yi is an excellent example of how our program goes beyond just providing funds for college. Kwan said the program gives him a sense of community. ‘I belong to an organization which supports me,’ he said. The full article:

*** Push from violin great was key to pianist’s career

Despite the contests and accolades won along the way, a friend had to convince Kwan Yi that he might have a career as a classical pianist.

That friend was violinist extraordinaire Itzhak Perlman.

“People and teachers told me I was talented, but I know there are so many talented musicians out there,” Kwan said. “I knew how competitive it was and I was actually scared to go into it.

“I’m a continuous work in progress,” he said. “I can’t say I realized at a certain point that I was good at it.”

Kwan met Perlman at the violinist’s 2002 Summer Institute, when he was still a junior at the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts. It not only cemented Kwan’s career choice, but also gave the now 24-year old Bayside, Queens, resident a new friend and mentor with whom he would play and tour with, including the Metropolitan Opera and during a Chicago tour.

“I only knew him from the encyclopedia,” Kwan said. “It was scary the first time I met him, but he’s such a loving person it was very easy to talk to him. He’s very approachable.”

Born in South Korea, Kwan’s family — mother, father and younger sister — immigrated to Delaware when he was 12 years old and moved to Bayside a year later.

His mother was a homemaker, and his father owned a grocery store. Kwan started playing piano when he was 11, motivated in part by his mother’s love of classical music.

He went to Middle School 74 in Bayside, then to LaGuardia in Manhattan before earning a bachelor degree in music from Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music and a master’s in music from Juilliard School at Lincoln Center.

In addition to Perlman, Kwan has studied with Ignat Solzhenitsyn and Robert McDonald, and has worked with Gary Graffman, Claude Frank and Fou Tsong.

For a time, Kwan considered being a classical vocalist — voice was a major of his Juilliard study, and he event too a master voice class with tenor Placido Domingo.

But he found it a little less frightening to be onstage with a piano.

“When I sing, I get nervous. But when I perform piano, I feel loose and comfortable,” he said.

I’m a completely different person. It shows in my style. I try to be as expressive as possible. I just let myself go. Maybe that’s not to the liking of some people, but that’s something I can’t control.”

Kwan mostly leaves that persona onstage.

“Being an Asian-American, our culture is that we don’t emote. We try to keep ourselves in,” he said.

“I get so worked up as s performer. I get very emotional. I kind of go crazy.”

Kwan doesn’t count the number of hours he rehearses leading up to a performance. But preparation, he said, is “95% mental.”

Physically, he’s concerned with “dexterity, technique, how clearly I can present the work musically,” he said. “But performing is more than hitting the right notes. It’s in understanding the music and presenting the work in such a manner, a clear fashion, so taht people understand what I am trying to do.”

Kwan is the first to admit he’s made a tough career choice.

“This is a very difficult field. it can be confusing at times, because are and music are so subjective. You have to be very strong, because different people may tell you different things, and it can get confusing. Time and experience have been like medicine for me.”

Kwan has won more honors than can be listed here, including a National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts Award, the ASCAP Foundation Ira Gershwin Award four Outstanding Musicianship, and the grand prize in the 2008 Schmidbauer International Piano Competition.

Lear year, he was a winner in the Sendai International Music Competition in Japan. You can also view his well-received AT&T commercial

Kwan is a longtime beneficiary of a Richard and Mica Hadar Foundation grant, which provides mentoring and financial support to select art students.

“Kwan Yi is an excellent example of how our program goes beyond just providing funds for college,” Richard Hadar said.

Kwan said the program gives him a sense of community. “I belong to an arts organization which supports me,” he said.

To hear more of his work, go to