Sean submitted his doctoral thesis, "Resonance, Motive, and Form in Late Solo Piano Works of Toru Takemitsu," and passed qualifying oral exams, completing the residential portion of the Yale School of Music Doctor of Musical Arts degree program.
Here are a few highlights:
"There was nowhere else he wanted to go, nowhere else he wanted to be. Sean moved as if asleep, except for his fingers, which raced like lightning. His focus was on what was right in front of him, and what was right in front of him was the piano, its polished face reflecting his own...
"Something amazing happens when the artist doesn’t try to sell the music.
Something remarkable happens when he plays for the sake of the music and ignores the audience. Something incredible happens when the artist doesn’t try to impose himself on the music, when he lets it flow through him and out to the listener, unmediated. The stage becomes irrelevant — it’s no longer a barrier, just the place where he happens to be sitting. The music becomes what it truly is: the composer’s gift to the listener, and the artist is a mouthpiece. The audience is given the power to interpret.
"This is true art: when the artist performs entirely for himself, and at the same time, entirely for others. It’s the paradox that distinguishes the commercial from the sublime."
Read the full article here:
Sean was invited by Dr. Craig Wright, Henry L. and Lucy G. Moses Professor of Music in Yale's Music Department and former Dept. chair, to be a Teaching Fellow for 2015. This year Sean is the only doctoral candidate from Yale's School of Music to hold the position.
Sean was named a laureate at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels, Belgium, performing Brahms Concerto No. 1 in D minor at Palais des Beaux-Arts with Marin Alsop and the Orchestre National de Belgique.
CHOPIN Preludes, op. 28. SCARLATTI Sonatas: in b, L. 449; in f, L. 189.
STRAVINSKY 3 Movements from Petrouchka - Sean Kennard (pn) - COUGAR
Here's a young pianist - judging by his photographs, very young - with a very
individual, almost introspective view of Chopin's Preludes. Despite the energy displayed in
pieces such as Nos. 12 and 14, Kennard plays most of them very delicately yet, oddly, with little
pedal, relying on the natural resonating qualities of his instrument to sustain the tones. I found
his approach to be quite original and affecting if not strongly memorable.
Conversely, his Scarlatti is appropriately cheerful and upbeat, though we only get two of
his little sonatas. Yet it is in his exuberant performance of "Three movements from Petrouchka" that Kennard really seems to emerge as a strong personality. His playing is full of life and
sparkle as well as little touches, of articulation and rubato, that mark him as a pianist sensitive to
nuance even in a sparkling tempo.
Kennard, who studied at both the College of Charleston and Juilliard, is apparently
affiliated with the former institution. Cougar Classics seems to be the recording organ of the
College. I could not find a record number anywhere on this disc or its attendant notes, nor could I
pull up Cougar Classics' website on my computer (it said "Loading" for 15 minutes, but never
loaded the page). Kennard's own website has no information regarding this specific disc.
Rhapsody Music lists the disc with its contents, but no record number. If you have a broadband
connection with all of your Adobe Flash things up to date, you can probably access the website
www.cougarclassics.com and order it there.
FANFARE: Lynn Rene Bayley
2nd Review by Fanfare:
CHOPIN Preludes, op. 28. SCARLATTI Sonatas: in b, L 449; in f, L 189. STRAVINSKY 3 Scenes from Petrushka - Sean Kennard (pn) - COUGAR (no number) (56:50)
By today's standards, when child prodigies make their debuts at the age of 10 or younger, Sean Kennard, born in 1984, got a late start. He didn't begin playing until he was 10 and didn't make his formal recital debut until 1995, 11 years later. Sometimes, though, it's worth waiting for talent to ripen, and in Kennard's case the wait has definitely borne fruit. I gather from his bio that Kennard is a native of Hawaii, where he began his studies. Three years later, he was accepted by the Curtis Institute of Music, where in his last year there he won the piano department's Sergei Rachmaninoff Award. He is currently enrolled at Juilliard, where he is pursuing advanced study under Jerome Lowenthal and Robert McDonald.
Ever since Bach offered his twin salutes to tempered tuning in the form of The Well-Tempered Clavier 1 and 2, composers have been fascinated by the idea of cyclic excursions through the major and minor keys, and none was more taken with the idea than Chopin, who wrote his 24 Preludes between 1835 and 1839. Like Bach, Chopin also visited all 24 major and minor keys, but his expedition took him through the cycle via a different route. Where Bach advances by semitones, following each major key prelude and fugue with a prelude and fugue in the parallel minor key, Chopin follows each major key prelude with a prelude in the relative minor key and then moves up by a fifth through the Circle of Fifths.
Other than that, Chopin's pieces are freeform, if you wish to praise them, or formless, if you wish to criticize them. And they range in duration from a mere 32 seconds in Kennard's performance (No. 10) to 4:49 (No. 15). But the timings don't necessarily reflect the lengths of the pieces in measures. The shortest (No. 9) is only 12 bars long but lasts for 1:25 because it's marked Largo.
Kennard's mastery of Chopin's idiom manifests itself in fingerwork that floats featherlike over the keys in the fast-paced preludes, giving the impression of complete effortlessness and in an emotional responsiveness to the poetics of the slow pieces that is quite touching. While I wouldn't necessarily say that Kennard outclasses Ashkenazy, Rubinstein, Moravec, Ohlsson, or half a dozen other players in this repertoire, he surely equals them.
Though I haven't heard Sheila Arnold's Preludes performed on a restored Chopin-era Erard, Dave Saemann gave her recording a rave review in Fanfare 33:6. Two other Arnold CDs containing works by Schumann and Brahms that I have heard and reviewed received very strong recommendations from me. Kennard, of course, plays on a modern Steinway, and so is not directly comparable. Among recent entries in this field, at least among those I've heard, I'd have to say Kennard is a compelling contender.
The remainder of Kennard's program adds considerable diversity to his disc. Horowitz was a dedicated advocate of Scarlatti on piano, often programming and recording the composer's sonatas. There's a live 1981 recording from the Met of the pianist playing the F-Minor Sonata that Kennard performs here, though currently I find no Horowitz recording of the B-Minor Sonata that Kennard also gives us on this disc. Scarlatti's music is so spirited and such an unalloyed joy to listen to, one laments the sonatas' brevity and the fact that Kennard offers only two of them; there would have been plenty of room on the disc for several more.
Stravinsky's Three Scenes from Petrushka are the composer's own reworking of material from his ballet. Written for and dedicated to Artur Rubinstein, the pieces are not transcriptions of existing set numbers in the score, per se, but rather a sort of newly composed reprise of material that occurs throughout the original ballet and reconsidered, if you will, for piano. The work has gained a good deal of popularity among pianists, many of whom have recorded it. But according to pianostreet.com, Rubinstein was not one of them. That, however, turns out to be a false assertion, for disc number 140 in a 142-CD Sony set of the pianist's complete RCA recordings made between 1928 and 1976 does contain Stravinsky's Three Scenes from Petrushka.
Kennard plays the pieces with the sharp articulation and steely touch the music calls for. His passagework glints with flashes of color like the facets of diamonds reflecting beams of light.
In sum, this is a very desirable disc. It may come across as a bit of a homegrown effort - no notes other than a brief bio of the artist; photography, artwork, and album design by Kennard himself; and the record label apparently a house product of the College of Charleston's School of the Arts - but if so, it's a very classy one. Unfortunately, as of this writing in late February 2012, I've not been able to find the disc listed by any of the usual suspects. If it's still not available through regular channels by the time you read this, I'd advise you to visit cougarclassics.com or contact email@example.com via e-mail. I promise you it's worth the effort.
Sean Kennard has won top prizes in the Queen Elisabeth Competition (Belgium), the International Music Competition of Viña del Mar (Chile), the Vendome International Piano Competition (Portugal), the Sendai International Music Competition (Japan), the Hilton Head International Piano Competition (USA), the National Chopin Competition, the Iowa Piano Competition, the American Pianists Association, and the International Chopin Competition of the Pacific.
Kennard has appeared as soloist with such orchestras as Japan’s NHK Chamber Orchestra, the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra, the Yamagata Symphony Orchestra, the Sendai Philharmonic, the Kyushu Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestre National de Belgique and Orchestre Royal de Chambre in Belgium, the German Chamber Orchestra of Frankfurt am Main, the Orchestre Philharmonique du Maroc, Orquesta Sinfonica de Chile, Orquesta Filarmónica de Montevideo, Sinfonia Perugina, the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra and the orchestras of Charleston, Sioux City and Honolulu.
The Washington Post wrote of his “powerful and involved music making” and described him as “a strong luminous pianist.” American Record Guide said that he “plays Chopin’s preludes with more poise and vision than most pianists who have recorded them. He boasts a huge, romantic sound and a bold melodic vision.” Fanfare wrote that “his playing is full of life and sparkle.”
Sean’s first teacher was Ellen Masaki. He received a Bachelor of Music from the Curtis Institute of Music in 2004. In his final year at Curtis he won the institute’s Sergei Rachmaninoff Award, given to one graduating pianist each year. After subsequent work with pianist Enrique Graf he received a Master of Music from the Juilliard School (studios of Jerome Lowenthal and Robert McDonald) and spent the following two years in the studio of Richard Goode. He is currently engaged in doctoral studies at the Yale School of Music in the studio of Boris Berman.
Sean Kennard has won top prizes in the Queen Elisabeth Competition (Belgium), the
International Music Competition of Viña del Mar (Chile), the Vendome International
Piano Competition (Portugal), the Sendai International Music Competition (Japan), the
Hilton Head International Piano Competition (USA), the National Chopin Competition,
the Iowa Piano Competition, the American Pianists Association, and the International
Chopin Competition of the Pacific.The Washington Post praised Kennard’s “powerful
and involved music making,” describing him as “a strong luminous pianist.”
debut album received a rave review in American Record Guide, which pronounced it “a
hidden gem,” attesting to its “perfect blend of lyricism and romantic passion,” “huge
romantic sound, and bold melodic vision,” and proclaiming that he “plays the dickens
out of the Stravinsky [Three Movements from Petrushka]” and “plays Chopin’s Preludes
with more poise and vision than most pianists who have recorded
them.” Fanfare affirmed the enthusiastic reception, naming the album “a very desirable
disc” and citing “Kennard’s mastery of Chopin’s idiom,” its “impression of complete
effortlessness” and “emotional responsiveness.” The review characterized his playing
as “full of life and sparkle,” summing up: “while I wouldn't necessarily say that Kennard
outclasses Ashkenazy, Rubinstein, Moravec, Ohlsson…in this repertoire, he surely
His most recent disc featuring sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti is scheduled
to be released by Naxos in 2016.Kennard has appeared as soloist with such orchestras
as the Prague Radio Symphony, NHK Chamber Orchestra (Japan), Yomiuri Nippon
Symphony Orchestra, Osaka Symphony Orchestra, Yamagata Symphony Orchestra,
Sendai Philharmonic, Kyushu Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre National de Belgique,
Orchestre Royal de Chambre (Belgium), Chamber Orchestra of Frankfurt (Germany),
Orchestre Philharmonique du Maroc (Morocco), Orquesta Sinfonica de Chile, Orquesta
Filarmónica de Montevideo, Orquesta Sinfonica Regional (Uruguay), Sinfonia Perugina
(Italy), Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional (Dominican Republic), New Amsterdam Symphony
Orchestra, Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra and the orchestras of Charleston, Sioux
City, Hilton Head, and Honolulu.He has appeared in recital and chamber music in such
venues as Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium, Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, the
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, Salle Cortot (Paris), Palais des Beaux-arts and
Theatre Royal de la Monnaie (Brussels), Gulbenkian Foundation (Lisbon), Chopin
Society (Warsaw), Teatro Caio Melisso (Spoleto), Sala dei Notari (Perugia), Tokyo
Opera City Hall, Yomiuri Otemachi Hall (Tokyo), Yamaha Hall (Tokyo), Seoul Arts
Center, Hong Kong City Hall, Mohamed V Theater (Morocco), and Teatro del Lago
Sean’s first teacher was Ellen Masaki. He received a Bachelor of Music from the
Curtis Institute of Music in 2004. In his final year at Curtis he won the institute’s Sergei
Rachmaninoff Award, given to one graduating pianist each year. After subsequent work
with pianist Enrique Graf he received a Master of Music from the Juilliard School
(studios of Jerome Lowenthal and Robert McDonald) and spent the following two years
in the studio of Richard Goode. He recently completed the residential portion of the
Doctor of Musical Arts degree program at Yale University working with Boris Berman.