February 23, 2023

Meet MSM Precollege student, pianist Zachary Guo

MSM Precollege student Zachary Guo was the featured pianist in an MSM Precollege Symphony performance on February 11. He talks to us about the concert, about being a Precollege student at MSM, and about his dreams for the future.

MSM Precollege student Zachary Guo  performed the first movement of Piano Concerto No. 5 by Camille Saint-Saëns with the Precollege Symphony Orchestra on February 11 at MSM. He played this solo after winning in the 2021 MSM Precollege Piano Concerto Competition.


Zachary is an 11th-grade student at the Pierrepont School in Westport, Connecticut, and is currently studying with Jiayin Li in MSM’s Precollege division.

A member of the NY Artemisia Akademie Young Artists roster, Zachary won the 2022 MNTA New York State Competition, the 2021-22 Manhattan School of Music Precollege Piano Concerto Competition, 2nd (2021) and 1st prize (2016) in the Piano Teachers Congress of NY Competition, 3rd prize in the 2019 International Gershwin Piano Competition, and 1st prize in the 2017 American Protégé Piano Competition.

His orchestral performances include the Mozart Concerto No.23, Beethoven No.1, Grieg Op.16, and Chopin No.2, with Polish and Italian festival orchestras. He has attended Piano Texas, Mozarteum Summer Academy, Paderewski Piano Academy, and the Perugia Piano Festival, participating in master classes by Arie Vardi, Bernd Goetzke, Veda Kaplinsky, Dina Yoffe, Akiko Ebi, Pavlina Dokovska, and Ilana Vered.

Tell us about you performance on February 11 with the MSM Precollege Symphony concert.

Zachary: The opportunity to play with the MSM Precollege Symphony and to work with Maestra Chanphanitpornkit was such a memorable experience. I learned a lot from the rehearsals and the meetings with the conductor and thoroughly enjoyed the whole process. In the final performance, I really felt fully prepared and excited onstage, and the incredible music-making made me forget about all of the pressure.

Zachary Guo performed during the February 11 Precollege concert at MSM

How do you prepare for a performance?

Zachary: Preparing for a concerto performance is of course different from a regular solo performance. I sat down to study the orchestra scores carefully, had multiple meetings with the conductor, and constantly adjusted my playing to balance the piano sound against orchestral instruments. Many times my interpretation must adapt to all kinds of unexpected surprises. At certain places, I had to give away my liberty of playing rubato. I deeply appreciate that Maestra Chan was willing to listen to me and my ideas before rehearsals started, offering very helpful suggestions of her own while also consulting with Dr. [Jiayin] Li. Her passion inspired me. During the preparation, my piano teacher Dr. Li also often came to sit in on my rehearsals, observing and giving me valuable feedback and suggestions.

Can you tell us about your recent awards? How do you feel about these honors?

Zachary: Last October, I won the MTNA New York State Competition for Senior Group, and in November, I won the “Creative Programming Award” at the 7th International Claudette Sorel Piano Competition. The MTNA competition was online while the Claudette Sorel competition was in person. It was such an honor to have received these awards, as they encourage me to keep working hard. The Sorel Competition in particular was such a great treat for me after the long period of social isolation during the pandemic. It was simply great to stand on a big stage performing and competing live again. And I felt so proud and fulfilled to bring to this wonderful competition a completely innovative program thanks to my teacher Dr. Li. This encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone in both interpretations and repertoire choosing.

Precollege student Zachary Guo with his teacher at MSM, Jiayin Li, on stage before his performance on Feb 11

What do you enjoy about studying in the MSM Precollege program?

Zachary: I enjoy MSM Precollege as there are many opportunities for me to bond with my classmates while still having a fruitful, well-rounded learning experience. I also love how the environment is very friendly, with teachers and students all supporting each other. I was particularly moved by the warm support and encouragement from my Precollege Symphony Orchestra friends. It was so heartwarming to see some MSM College and Precollege faculty members standing in the audience applauding for us.

How do you work with your teacher Jiayin Li? What do you enjoy about working with her?

Zachary: Dr. Li is a great teacher, and her influence on me has been transformative. Her choice of repertoire has led me to explore composers I never played before, always challenging me and inspiring me. Best of all, she allows me to have my own voice, resolving all musical and technical challenges with a clear understanding of the process required. She actually teaches me to teach myself.

ZacharyGuo at the piano with the MSM Precollege Symphony in Neidorff-Karpati Hall

You have also studied conducting — why is this important to you, and what are your dreams as a musician?

Zachary: Studying conducting expands my knowledge and breadth as a musician and helps me think from a holistic point of view. Especially when I’m working with the orchestra, I’ve learned to be more sensitive to the timing of each transition, to breathe in and out of the orchestral parts that otherwise would have been just rests on my sheet music, and to adjust my voice accordingly to achieve the musical intention as a whole. Music has been a significant part of my life: not only has the discipline of learning music made me who I am, but music itself has contributed to making my life more meaningful. Although I am still unsure of whether or not to study performance at a professional level, I would definitely pursue it for the rest of my life. My dream as a musician is to bring great impact on people around me with my music making.

What do you have coming up that you are excited about?

Zachary: I look forward to my second solo recital this year, coming up in April. Besides that, I am currently waiting for the results of my applications to various summer music festivals. These festivals have provided me with extremely valuable and exciting opportunities to work with great masters and fellow young musician peers. I am also starting to learn the new repertoire that Dr. Li assigned me for my college auditions.

“I enjoy MSM Precollege as there are many opportunities for me to bond with my classmates and have a fruitful, well-rounded learning experience. I love how the environment is very friendly with teachers and students all supporting each other.”

MSM Precollege student

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