Bensen Kwan (’19)

Sugar Land-based musician Bensen Kwan, 25, took first place at this year’s Philadelphia International Music Festival (PIMF) Virtual Concerto Competition. The grand prize is a full scholarship to Music House International, PIMF’s immersive, 17-day summer program.

Every year, aspiring musicians from around the world submit recorded auditions for a chance to attend PIMF’s summer music program. Kwan won based on his performance of Keiko Abe’s ‘Prism Rhapsody’ on the marimba.

“[It’s] basically like a festival where many people just come together and play orchestral and chamber music,” Kwan said. “I’ll get to play a solo recital as well.”

The program will take place next summer. Participants will get private lessons with PIMF’s faculty as well as a chance to perform with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Kwan will be a featured performer on PIMF’s You Tube channel.

A graduate of Sugar Land’s Stephen F Austin High School, Kwan credits his decision to become a musician to his high school teacher Brian Stevens.

“It wasn’t that I already knew in high school that I wanted to be a professional musician,” he said. “I just really wanted music to be a part of my life. And I knew that it could also influence other people positively.”

Kwan went on to study Music Education at the University of Houston.

The marimba, a large wooden percussion instrument similar to the xylophone, has gained popularity in recent years, Kwan said.

“Keiko Abe, the composer, is one of my biggest heroes because she was the first person in the world to really popularize it,” said Kwan. “The marimba is an up-and-coming solo instrument that people are, I think, taking more seriously. There’s only one or two graduate programs where you major in just marimba performance. Otherwise you learn all percussion.”

The youngest of three siblings, Kwan grew up in a musical family and started piano at age four. He attributes his marimba-playing to his older brother and sister, who encouraged him to choose band as an elective in middle school.

“My siblings recommended I do percussion because it was like, the coolest instrument out of all,” Kwan said. “At first, I didn’t like it because it was something they forced me to do. But eventually I really started to love it and majored in it.”

Kwan said he spent up to six hours practicing the marimba before the lockdown. He has won numerous awards and accolades, having traveled to Germany last year to study at the Hochschule fur Musik und Theater Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy.

“I got to see the music culture there [Germany]– widely supported by the public and also the government and organizations,” he said. “I think it would benefit everyone, if we had more music, supported by everyone and more performances.”

In addition to piano and marimba, Kwan is also passionate about his steelpan, which, he explained with a smile, is transportable unlike the marimba.

“It comes from Trinidad and is such a lovely instrument,” he said. “I love my steelpan.”

Kwan had the following advice for young musicians:

“Focus on being a better person and the music will follow,” he said. “There’s enough selfish musicians out there.”

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