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Gilmore Young Artists

Left: Harmony Zhu (photo: Shervin Lainez) Right: Kasey Shao (photo: Yuxvan Zhen)
College student, high school senior win 2024 honors

The Gilmore is best known for its biennial piano festival, but the organization also commissions music, has a robust piano education program and presents concerts in “off-festival” years.

Another aspect of the organization’s depth is the career-making awards it gives out and is known for internationally. As each festival approaches, the organization bestows Gilmore Young Artist honors on two young pianists and names its Gilmore Artist, an honor that can shine a spotlight on a deserving pianist for years, if not throughout a career. The award winners are determined by a nominating committee and advisory panel, the latter of which spends months, if not years, hearing artists perform, in person whenever possible. The artists are unaware they are being considered and get to enjoy a life-changing phone call or in-person visit from the leader of The Gilmore, who currently is Executive and Artistic Director Pierre van der Westhuizen.

Last month the organization kicked off its 2024 festival announcements by naming the two 2024 Gilmore Young Artists.

Princeton University junior Kasey Shao and New York high school senior Harmony Zhu will each receive $15,000 to further their careers and education and $10,000 to commission a new piano composition. In addition, they will play solo recitals and concertos (with orchestra) during the 16th Gilmore International Piano Festival, April 24 through May 11, 2024, in Kalamazoo and throughout Southwest Michigan.

“There’s nothing I love more than hearing a stunned silence or scream of delight from a new Gilmore Young Artist,” van der Westhuizen says. “It’s among the best parts of my job. What’s mind-boggling about these two young women is how devoted they are to other studies and interests while maintaining a high musical standard, which makes for a well-rounded artist. We are so gratified to welcome them to the family of Gilmore Young Artists and to Michigan for the 2024 Festival.”

Born in 2004, Shao started playing piano at age 6 and made her concerto debut at age 12 with the Philadelphia Orchestra. This Steinway Young Artist and 2021 U.S. Presidential Scholar is concentrating in music and pre-med at Princeton, hoping to become a hand surgeon to help pianists maintain their ability to play. She has won countless competitions, including the 2018 Steinway and Sons Piano Competition, performed across the country and been featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Cincinnati Business Inquirer, Oberlin Tribune and Cleveland Classical.

Zhu, who attends New York City’s Brearley School, began piano study at The Juilliard School at age 8, was recognized as a Young Steinway Artist at 10 and made her debut at Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium at 14. She won the 2021 Young Concert Artists International Auditions and has been featured on National Public Radio’s From the Top and NBC’s The Ellen DeGeneres Show and appeared as a soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic and Orquesta Filarmónica de Medellín (Colombia).

Shao and Zhu join a group of 40 Gilmore Young Artists that includes Kirill Gerstein, Micah McLaurin and Yuja Wang. A conversation among the two young pianists and 1996 Gilmore Young Artist Orli Shaham can be found online at TheGilmore.org and on The Gilmore’s YouTube channel.

The other major award for the 2024 festival — the 2024 Gilmore Artist honor — will be announced Sept. 17 in a livestreamed event from Western Michigan University, where the winning pianist will play several classical selections. The ninth such artist and the first named since Germany’s Igor Levit in 2018 (no artist was announced for the 2020 or 2022 festivals due to the Covid-19 pandemic) will join a roster of Gilmore Artists that includes Piotr Anderszewski (Poland), Leif Ove Andsnes (Norway), Rafal Blechacz (Poland), Ingrid Fliter (Argentina), Kirill Gerstein (U.S.), Ralf Gothóni (Finland) and David Owen Norris (U.K.).

The lineup for the 2024 festival will be announced in November, with tickets available in December to the general public. For more information, visit thegilmore.org.

Katie Houston

Katie Houston is a Kalamazoo-based writer, communications coach, and marketing consultant.

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