2019 IAC Interviews: Jason Chen

Hello to our readers and website visitors!

While this year’s semi-finalists prepare for the 2021 International Artist Competition, we caught up with the winners from the 2019 IAC. It’s been two years since we’ve seen them and we were curious to see what they’ve been up to. Make sure to check out the other interviews in this series!

Today, we are featuring Jason Chen! Jason (Xiaohui) Chen was the 1st Prize winner of the Collegiate Solo Division in our 2019 International Artist Competition. He also competed in the Open Duo category with partner Mio Fujimoto, tying for first place with Filament Duo.

Please introduce yourself.

– My name is Jason Chen, currently a student of Boston Conservatory at Berklee studying with Nancy Zeltsman and Samuel Solomon. I have studied percussion for more than 10 years.

What have you been up to since we last saw you? 

– After the competition, I continued my school life. I took a lot of elective courses about art such as painting and sculpture during my junior and senior years. The daily practice is the same as usual. I am still trying hard to learn more complex pieces to enrich my musical skills.

What are you currently working on?

– For now, I am preparing for my senior recital on April 22nd. Most of the pieces have been prepared, but I am considering going to a good place for recording. There are some pieces I hope to find a suitable outdoor environment for recording, which requires me to spend some time searching and trying.

What do you love about playing marimba?

– In my opinion, the feeling of playing marimba is different from like or love, and more inclined to a habit. To practice this instrument every day is precious to every performer. What energy drives us to stand in front of the marimba every day and think about every note, notation, and phrase? Even though there are many other interesting things to do, we are still willing to spend a lot of time practicing. Sometimes the music is too hard, or we face lots of troubles that will make us stay alone in the practice room. I think the marimba gives us the power to face those challenges every day and this is my love about playing marimba.

What kind of physical preparation do you do before playing?  

– Before practicing, I make my brain and body become active. This is not only helpful for practice, but also very important before we perform. Sometimes we feel that our hands are cold and stop thinking when we start playing. We can try physical preparation to improve these. My method is to simply jump and move the arms at the same time to make the body aware that we will start to play. For the brain, I think to calm down is better for performance. Sometimes the more we focus on the music that we will play, the easier it is to ignore the details inside of it. So keeping a calm mind is very important.

How did you prepare for the 2019 IAC?

– The most basic thing for me is the preparation of the piece. I have to practice them well and satisfy myself (I think this is the most important thing). In this way, you can believe in yourself when you are performing. I think in the process of the competition, it is difficult for the performer to show all the details that they practiced. For example, if you feel worried that you will make a mistake on one part when you practice, there is a high probability that it will happen during the competition. Therefore, you need to master every piece when you practice them and feel confident with absolute certainty.

Most memorable moment at the 2019 IAC?

– I believe that the competition is a great place to improve every player, because you can see everyone will try their best to play their piece. This is an atmosphere that is hard to feel in school. We will watch a lot of great performances in a recital, masterclass or seminar, but it will rarely be in the most focused state. I was very impressed by the extremely focused eyes that I saw in every performance. There were also a lot of other scenes that impressed me, such as spending time with my partner Mio, the Starbucks in the campus, and eating in the restaurant with the players. These memories are very precious.

How has the pandemic affected your routine?

– I did not stay in Boston because the conservatory has complete remote courses. Now I am with my family in Beijing, China. In addition to finishing homework, practicing the marimba is also very comfortable. I really missed my marimba in the past few years and felt good after returning. It’s a pity that I don’t have a lot of instruments, so I tried some non-instrumental music, which brought me a lot of fun. I will also play in my recital.

Anything you want to say to SCM’s audience and the marimba community?

– I believe that the marimba will have more development and changes in the future, which needs the support of the audience and the innovation of the performers and composers. I hope that we will work together to promote the future of the marimba.

Check out Jason’s solo performance and duo performance with Mio Fujimoto from the final round of the 2019 IAC!

Here is Jason performing “Wind” by Andrew Thomas at Boston Conservatory at Berklee.

Be sure to catch the livestream of Jason’s senior recital on Thursday, April 22 at 8 pm ET!

Thank you to Jason for taking the time to answer our questions, especially as he is preparing for his senior recital. Best of luck with your performance and finishing out the school year!

Have you marked your calendar for the 2021 International Artist Competition? Learn more here.

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