Launching head-first at four years old into an exploration of the Piano, Sylvia Jiang can now be found performing as a soloist with the Royal Philharmonic and chasing a piano in choreographer Pam Tanowitz’s newest creation across the Kennedy Center stage with equal enthusiasm. Inspired by a hotel-lobby pianist, toddler Sylvia turned to her mother and asked to play the instrument. Though at first skeptical that such a rambunctious child could engage with Piano lessons, her parents were eventually won over by the child’s unrelenting powers of persuasion. Never could they have imagined that this initial interest was only the tip of the iceberg.
In the warm environment of New Zealand, Sylvia received much support from an early age. Taking advantage of the rich community musical scene, she spent much of her childhood performing in local community centers and playing in youth music groups. Aside from competing in various local competitions, Sylvia also received valuable experience as a teacher and director, as she was entrusted with various music group leadership positions. Most notably, Sylvia was a co-director of her high school’s ‘everyone is welcome’ choir, a group which consisted of over 100 students who came together specifically to prepare for the national high school choral festival The Big Sing. Designed to be approachable, this group worked within a broad array of musical genres and often involved collaborative work with dancers, actors, and visual artists in order to create more engaging performances. Oftentimes, these performances included pop and Broadway music. Such experiences not only developed her skills as a performer, teacher, and communicator, but also piqued her interest for multi-disciplinary collaboration and exploration.
Sylvia decided to pursue her music career more seriously after she was invited to give her first recital as a featured soloist in ‘Emerging Artists at Baycourt Theatre’- a major New Zealand concert series in 2012. She has been hailed by critics as a ‘gifted young pianist of genuine substance’ (well known pianist John Lill, 2013) and ‘New Zealand’s most notable young emerging pianist’ (Baycourt Times, 2012), and her performances have been featured on national networks TV3, ABC Australia, Radio New Zealand Concert, Maori Television, BBC, and other notable news networks and publications. These early successes eventually led to an acceptance at the Juilliard School, becoming the first New Zealand pianist in Juilliard’s 109 year history to attend at the undergraduate level.
Over the years, she has won numerous top prizes at national and international level competitions. Bursting onto the Australasian music competition scene at age 16, Sylvia became one of the youngest laureates of the New Zealand Wallace National Piano Competition. Renowned as the definitive competition for New Zealand pianists, Cliburn Competition laureate judge Michael Houstoun declared Sylvia as a pianist of “massive range” and stated “the world is really her oyster” in the Awards Ceremony broadcasted on national radio. Similarly at the Lev Vlassenko International Piano Competition, Sylvia was once again one of the youngest laureates and she garnered a performance of the Schumann Piano Concerto with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra under the Baton of Nicholas Braithwaite- her first with any major orchestra. Further competition successes have seen her awarded top prizes at the Kerikeri, Music Academy of the West, and Hastings International piano competitions.
Sylvia has gone on to give solo performances in Great Britain, Sydney, Indonesia, Korea, New Zealand, and the United States. As a concerto soloist, she has followed her first experience with the Queensland Symphony with performances of Rachmaninov’s Concerto No. 2 in C Minor with the Royal Philharmonic under the baton of Rory McDonald, a self conducted performance of Mozart’s Concerto in E flat Major K. 271, and a performance of Franck’s Symphonic Variations with the Music Academy of the West Festival Orchestra under the baton of Larry Rachliffe. Most notably, Sylvia fulfilled a childhood dream of performing with her hometown orchestra the Auckland Philharmonic in 2022 by being invited to be a last minute replacement for Jean Efflam Bavouzet. She performed Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto under the baton of Giordano Bellincampi and was met with a standing ovation. Sylvia has also presented sold-out solo recitals at the Auckland Town Hall in both 2014 and 2017, and has performed extensively in her home country. Other notable performance highlights include solo performances at Alice Tully Hall, the Kennedy Center, Banff Center in Alberta, Canada, Morgan Library in New York City, Juilliard’s Morse and Paul Halls, The Lodge at the Hills, and the Sydney and New York Steinway Halls.
As a collaborator, Sylvia has expanded on her early collaborative experiences by taking a particular interest in finding new ways to tell stories through the lenses of multi-disciplinary work. In her freshman year at Juilliard she founded NOVA: Movement and Sound, a thirty- person ensemble which created concert-length collaborative works combining music and dance. Serving as improvisor and director, this group was invited to present workshops to high school students in Montreal, Canada as well as to the students of Opportunity Music Project in New York City- an organization offering music lessons and experience to underserved children. Currently she is exploring further cross-disciplinary work as the director and co-founder of “i forgot the milk”, an ensemble which combines acting, music, dance, and multimedia through new music and improvisation. Sylvia has been invited to be a featured soloist in The Kennedy Center’s Ballet Across America with Dance Theatre of Harlem and Miami City Ballet where she will be working with choreographer Pam Tanowitz on a new commission combining both dance companies.
Sylvia at age four