With “probing seriousness” (Performing Arts Monterey Bay) and “a stunningly beautiful palette of colors” (Peninsula Reviews), pianist Kevin Lee Sun interprets music old and new.
In 2011, Sun won the Silver Medal at the Virginia Waring International Piano Competition in California for his performances of the classical canon. In 2021, for his visionary programming of 20th-century music, he was the sole pianist to be named Finalist of the Berlin Prize for Young Artists in Germany.
These honors have led Sun to perform a diverse repertoire around the world, including at the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, the Arnold Schoenberg Center in Vienna, the Villa Elisabeth in Berlin, and the Banff Centre in Canada. Masterworks for solo piano that Sun has performed recently in recital include Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy, Schumann’s Kreisleriana, Schoenberg’s Suite for Piano, and Hyo-shin Na’s Rain Study.
Sun has a notable collaboration with living composer Hyo-shin Na. In his 2022-23 season, Sun gave the world premiere of Na’s Song So Old, a piano work that he co-commissioned with the Elaine and Richard Fohr Foundation, at the Eastman School of Music in New York. He also gave lecture-recitals on her solo piano and violin-piano duo music at the College Music Society National Conference in California and the Composition in Asia Symposium in Florida (with violinist Chihiro Kakishima). In the 2023-24 season, Sun’s recitals will feature the west coast premiere of Na’s Song So Old, as well as the complete performance of Frederic Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated!, an hour-long set of variations on the Chilean chant "¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!"
As a proponent of living composers’ works, Sun has performed pieces by György Kurtág, Hyo-shin Na, Daniel De Togni, Jeffrey Gao, and many others as part of Stanford University’s New Music Ensemble, San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s Composition Department, and Thomas Schultz’s Summer Piano Seminar at Stanford. He also has managed the production of the Hot Air Music Festival, an annual new music marathon in San Francisco that is free to the public.
Sun balances his performance career with a strong devotion to teaching, and his piano students have achieved numerous successes. While he was an applied piano instructor at the Eastman School of Music, Sun’s students won prizes at the NY State Music Teachers Association State Competition and the University of Rochester Concerto Competition. They gave solo recitals, played in Rochester orchestras and jazz bands, and conducted school-funded research at the Library of Congress. Furthermore, chosen by renowned pianist Alexander Kobrin to be Mr. Kobrin’s teaching assistant at Eastman, Sun mentored students to win prizes at the Bosendorfer USASU International Piano Competition, Weatherford College International Piano Competition, Marian Garcia International Piano Competition, and Chautauqua Piano Competition. Students he has taught have been accepted to summer festivals such as Gijón International Piano Festival, the Amalfi Coast Festival's Piano Program, and Pianofest in the Hamptons, as well as to graduate school programs in various disciplines.
Setting Sun apart from other classical pianists is his research acumen. A native of Sacramento, California, Sun earned his B.A.S. in biology and classics at Stanford University, then his M.M. in piano at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he served as Piano Department Assistant. In the subsequent three years, he was a Stanford Medical School student. With his diverse educational background, Sun has co-authored numerous peer-reviewed journal articles of original research in the fields of psychiatry, student mentorship, and Platonic philosophy. Combining these previous interests with music, Sun’s most recent research has focused on alternative learning modalities for studio class that are inclusive of international and neurodiverse students.
Throughout his life, Sun has been proud to teach and learn from LGBTQ+ community members, neurodivergent transition-age youth, and English language learners. He has advocated for these students annually in national conference presentations for the College Music Society, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Klingenstein Third Generation Foundation.
Sun began his piano studies in Sacramento with Sylvia and Tien Hsieh, who fostered his musical talent. He later studied with Lorna Peters at Sacramento State, Sharon Mann at SFCM, Alexander Kobrin at Eastman, and Thomas Schultz at Stanford.
Sun is Assistant Professor of Piano at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.
The 2016 election cast a dark cloud of anxiety over the SFCM student body, many of whom were international students, LGBTQ+ community members, and artist-advocates. In my Commencement speech representing graduate students, I encouraged my fellow graduates to continue advocating for our unique visions of beauty, and to embrace the process of growth in the face of uncertainty and disagreement.