Chen, who was selected as the 2013 Classical Fellow of the American Pianists Association, made a good impression in Fort Worth, Texas, on the jury and audience as well, drawing a host of rave Tweets from fans who heard the final concerto performance of the competition, the Rachmaninoff Third, with Leonard Slatkin conducting the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra.
The gold medalist (first prize winner) is Vadym Kholodenko, 26, of Ukraine. The silver medal went to Beatrice Rana, 20, of Italy.
The other finalists, all six of whom will receive three years of concert management, are Fei-Fei Dong, 22, of China; Nikita Mndoyants, 24, of Russia, and Tomoki Sakata, 19, of Japan.
As silver medalist, Chen receives $20,000 and a recording of his competition performances. He is the first American finalist since the 1997 competition. Now studying at the Yale School of Music, he has two degrees from the Juilliard School and scored a 2011 second-place finish at the the Seoul International Music Competition.
Of the four Classical Fellowship Awards participants in the APA competition, Chen was the only one to make it to the finals. Claire Huangci was among the semifinalists, however, and took home one of three Jury Discretionary Awards, worth $4,000.
Before the final round began, APA president and artistic director Joel Harrison liked Chen's chances. "He has some degree of advantage because he is so bright and is able to focus on what he is doing. You can't be a hothouse personality (in major competitions). You've got to be ready with so much stuff, and you know you can't control everything.
"That bodes well for him," Harrison said. "He's not a fussy personality. He's a happy person; stress is not an overriding issue with him."
Harrison predicted a great future for Chen before Sunday's result was announced in Fort Worth. "He's a unique personality, and he has some entrepreneurial qualities. He's willing to go out there and make things happen musically, and he's not a cookie-cutter pianist. He stands out."
With the third prize in such a prestigious competition plus his selection as the 2013 APA Classical Fellow, Chen is in good position to stand out even more.
Talking with me from Fort Worth after the announcement, Harrison said he was happy with the result, praising the artistry of the finalists who bested Chen in the 13-member jury's opinion. He was pleased with the Rachmaninoff concerto performance, calling it "over-the-top, highly engaging, riveting, as exciting as his Bartok Second was in Indianapolis."
Harrison couldn't predict how the overlapping career assistance that the APA sets up for its Fellowship winners and the corresponding part of the Cliburn award will work out, saying "we will just have to coordinate." No matter how much the engagements resulting from the two prizes pack Chen's schedule, however, "he won't burn out," Harrison predicted. "That's not in him. He knows how to pace himself. He'll do a great job."