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Composite photo of two students in formal attire, each bowing on stage next to a piano

Two SMTD Students Earn Honors at Chopin Competitions

Nov 10, 2023 | Awards & Accolades, News, Students

In October, on two different continents, two SMTD students earned honors at competitions celebrating the work of Frédéric Chopin.

Angie Zhang (MM ’24, fortepiano, DMA ’24, piano) won third place and was the top American performer at the second annual International Chopin Competition on Period Instruments, in Warsaw, Poland, held October 5–15. Around the same time, Ariya Laothitipong (BM ’25, piano) won 3rd place at the inaugural Nashville International Chopin Piano Competition, which took place in Tennessee October 14–15.

Emphasizing the value of using period instruments, the Fryderyk Chopin Institute – the organizer of the Warsaw competition – stated, “Performances using means similar to those the composer had at his disposal makes contemporary audiences aware of the specific nature of Chopin’s music, and particularly of its distinctive features that are lost if performed on contemporary instruments.”

Angie Zhang on stage holding flowers; a large performance house and balcony full of audience members in background

Angie Zhang onstage at the International Chopin Competition on Period Instruments

Thanks to the Stearns Collection, Zhang has had the benefit of exposure to period instruments at SMTD. “Having access to the largest historical instrument collection in the country (the Stearns Collection) on a daily basis has allowed me to delve deep into the world of historical keyboards and become a specialist in this area as I continue to discover and perform the classics and underrepresented works on the modern piano,” she said. “This dual access continues to shape my artistry and contributions to the world through scholarly pursuits and performances.”

Zhang continued, “I would like to say a special thanks to SMTD and the music department for supporting me in truly generous ways. My professors Logan Skelton, Peter Sykes, Joseph Gascho, and Matthew Bengtson have been instrumental in my studies and success.”

Skelton, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Music, offered praise for Zhang: “Angie’s prize-winning performances in the International Chopin Competition on Period Instruments in Warsaw, Poland, brought to vivid life Chopin’s music much as it was originally heard in his lifetime. I congratulate her on this artistic achievement, which is a great honor not only for Angie, but also for our school as a whole.”

Pianist performs on stage with an orchestra, a row of floral arrangements lines the stage

Angie Zhang performing at the International Chopin Competition on Period Instruments

Speaking of her experience in Nashville, Laothitipong said, “Competing in a competition, for me, is more than just about winning or losing. It is a valuable opportunity to expand my musical horizons and build meaningful connections with other musicians. The competition itself serves as a platform for me to set goals and strive for continuous improvement, pushing the boundaries of my abilities and talents. Receiving 3rd prize from the Nashville International Chopin Piano Competition has been an incredible experience for me.”

Ariya Laothitipong poses on a red carpet, with backdrop of Nashville skyline / Chopin portrait

Ariya Laothitipong at the Nashville International Chopin Piano Competition

Laothitipong expressed, “I am grateful for all the support from my family, teachers, friends, and SMTD, who have helped me throughout this journey. This support and encouragement played a pivotal role in this success, and I wouldn’t have achieved this without them. I would like to give special recognition to Professor Christopher Harding, who guided me and helped me prepare for this competition. His dedication and expertise helped me to refine my skills and overcome challenges that come along this journey.”

Harding, chair of the Department of Piano and professor of music, stated that “Ariya is a tremendously gifted and excellently experienced performer, and she took a major step forward in her preparation for this competition. Her performance in the finals was superb and her success is completely deserved, a great spur to her next accomplishments. I am proud to be working with her.”

A solo pianist performs on a stage, with a display of international flags and a floral arrangement

Ariya Laothitipong performing at the Nashville International Chopin Piano Competition

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