One of Yi-Kwei Sze's notable performances was at the United Nations celebrating United Nations Day in 1954, in the performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony with Charles Munch conducting. He returned to the United Nations in 1960 for another performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra.
NEW HORIZONS IN THE 1960s
In 1961, Yi-Kwei Sze performed at a State Dinner for President John F. Kennedy. After congratulating him on his performance, President Kennedy encouraged Mr. Sze to appear in other countries around the world as a cultural ambassador for the United States.
Later that year, Mr. Sze made his first European appearance in a concert tour of Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Germany, which was the first of many more engagements in Europe.
His engagements have been highlighted by performances with Herbert von Karajan at La Scala and with the Berlin Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall. Mr. Sze performed with the London Symphony, The Hague Philharmonic, Amsterdam's Concertgebouw Orchestra, the London Philharmonic, and the Paris Conservatory Orchestra among others in Europe.
His many recordings with the renowned accompanist Brooks Smith included songs by Brahms, Moussorgsky, Schumann and Tcherepnin on Holland's IRAMAC label. These recordings brought the artist high honors with the Edison Prize at the Grand Gala du Disque in Amsterdam in 1966, and in Paris, the 1966 and 1967 Awards by the Academie Nationale du Disque in Amsterdam's Concertgebouw followed by a banquet in his honor. The government of the Republic of China presented him with the First Order of Fine Arts and Merit Achievement Awards.
Throughout the years, Mr. Sze also frequently appeared with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony, and the Chicago Symphony in the United States.
Yi-Kwei Sze received tremendous critical acclaim for his powerful and expressive artistry in recital, orchestral and operatic performances throughout the western music world.
In addition to his busy concert tour schedule, Mr. Sze became a member of the artist faculty at the Aspen Music Festival in Aspen, Colorado from 1963-1970.
THE 1970s - 1980s: GIVING BACK
In 1970, Mr. Sze was appointed to the Cleveland Insitute of Music Voice Faculty at the invitation of his friend, Victor Babin. In 1973, Mr. Sze came to Rochester as Professor of Voice at the Eastman School of Music.
Yi-Kwei Sze made appearances in the 1974 and 1975 Festivals of Asian Arts in Hong Kong in performances with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (1974), and the English Chamber Orchestra (1975).
In 1979, Mr. Sze was invited by the government of the People's Republic of China to teach voice for a full semester as Visiting Professor at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. He brought back voluminous scores of music, as well as sound equipment and recordings in an effort to jump start classical music after the ravages of the Cultural Revolution. His presence was extremely well received. Although the master classes were limited to eight students, hundreds of students and musical faculty from all parts of China attended his master classes as auditors.
Mr. Sze was instrumental in leading talented Chinese musicians to the United States for further training. In 1981, a concert was given at the Eastman School of Music for the benefit of overseas Chinese students at Eastman. The benefit concert led to the founding of the Yi-Kwei and Nancy Lee Sze Scholarship Fund for overseas Chinese students.
In 1982, Mr. Sze retired from the Eastman School of Music. A concert was dedicated to Mr. Sze in recognition of his distinguished career as a performer and teacher. He was honored with the unveiling of his portrait at Eastman in 1987.
Yi-Kwei Sze bore the unique distinction of being the first Chinese singing artist to achieve a major international career. He has been compared with Kipnis, Kunz, and Chaliapin. Die Welt in Berlin hailed him as "One of the best singers in the world".
Mr. Sze made his first public performance in New York City at Town Hall in late 1947. In 1949, he gave his first recital and was the first Chinese American artist to sing at Carnegie Hall. In 1950, Mr. Sze made his American debut as the King of Egypt in the San Francisco Opera production of Aida.
His career soon catapulted and Mr. Sze began performing around the world. With a repertory spanning six languages, he performed with the NBC Television Opera (with Leontyne Price), the New York City Opera, and with Milan's La Scala among others, in addition to successful concert tours in Australia for the Australian Broadcasting Commission in 1953 and in the Far East in 1957.
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Yi-Kwei Sze was born in Shanghai, China. At age 17, he studied first as a violinist at the National Conservatory of Music in Shanghai, and then changed to voice, studying under Russian singer Vladimir Shushlin.
THE EARLY YEARS IN AMERICA
In 1947, after immigrating to the United States, Yi-Kwei Sze began voice studies in New York City with Edyth Walker. He continued his studies with the legendary Russian basso Alexander Kipnis. That same year, he married Nancy Lee, whom he first met at the National Conservatory of Music in Shanghai. She had come to New York to study piano at the Juilliard School, and frequently accompanied him at the piano throughout his early and later performing years.