Neilson Chen


Photos by Matt Dine and Montana Smith


First Place, 2019 Music Academy of the West Duo Competition


Brevard Music Center, 2013; SongFest, 2015; Saarburg International Music Festival, 2014, 2016; Luxemburg International Music Festival, 2016; Rocky Ridge Music Center, 2018; Music Academy of the West, 2019; Meadowmount School of Music, Collaborative Piano Artist in Residence, 2022–23

What is your earliest memory of classical music?

I think my earliest memory is when I was three years old: every time I heard a tune either from a CD or on TV, I would always go to the piano to try to play the tune.

Was there a teacher who was particularly impactful/helpful? What made this instructor stand out?

I think Dr. Andrew Campbell is the one who inspires me the most in my career. He was really specific when talking about collaborations. However, at the same time, he gives the pianists the freedom to create unique ideas. Once we convince him, he has no issues with the choices we make.

How would you like to see orchestra concerts evolve in the future?

I think because technology is one of the most fascinating things in our daily lives and most of us cannot live without it, if orchestra concerts can occasionally combine with some kind of technology like visual effects, I am sure it can attract more audiences.

What is the most memorable performance you ever had?

As a collaborative pianist performing with Joshua Bell in concert.

What is your proudest achievement as a musician?

When I was a DMA student at Arizona State University, our department director trusted my ability to showcase the school, so she asked me to be the collaborative pianist for the university faculty searches.

Is there a person or people you most respect in your field and why?

Anne Epperson is the one I respect most in the collaborative piano field. I believe she is the one creating the “collaborative piano.” We used to always be called accompanists, but in duo or chamber music, we are not accompanists anymore. Instead, we have equal responsibility and leadership. Also, Anne is the one who gained my interest as a collaborative pianist because of the way she taught as pedagogy.

If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing?

I love to travel around the world, so if I was not a musician, I think I would be a flight attendant.

What is the biggest challenge and/or surprise about playing in an orchestra?

I think the biggest challenge and difference between playing in an orchestra versus in a chamber music setting is how to follow the conductor. You won’t be able to always present the way you want; instead, just go with the leader so that the music can sound unified.

What advice would you give your younger self or anyone starting out?

Be brave enough to do anything you want, but at the same time, discuss with your colleagues when there is some kind of argument. We are always learning every day.