Johann Sebastian...Bank? The Best Pianist at Harvard

Wei-jen Yuan '06

Laura C. Mckiernan

According to Shira R. Brettman ’06, Wei-Jen Yuan ’06 is a brilliant pianist—the best at Harvard. He is also, she says, “a really belligerent drunk.”

A concert pianist who has won high-level competitions and played all over the world, Yuan spent his freshman year studying at Julliard. But a visit to Harvard during the spring of that year made Yuan reconsider his options.

“At Julliard I would get up at eight or nine, go practice, eat, have class, practice for six hours and then go to bed,” says Yuan. He transferred to Harvard the next year to start his freshman year anew, and quickly found exactly what he was looking for. Friends interviewed for this story defined him as much by his partying as his piano skills.

At Harvard, Yuan was able to have more fun, but he did not give up piano. He practices between four and five hours a day, working with Professor of Music Robert Levin ’68, a pianist with an international reputation who has been his teacher and mentor for the last four years. Yuan has also performed with the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, and last summer he went on a world tour.

He is, according to fellow musician Brettman, the Harvard pianist best placed to enter the competitive world of professional concert performance.

But Yuan may take a different and more typical path: finance. During this semester’s recruiting season, he has met with so many consulting firms and investment banks that he hasn’t practiced piano in a month.

“It’s something he’s struggled with a lot, because he loves music and he would really suffer if he didn’t have music in his life at all,” says Brettman. “But no one who goes into music has a guarantee in the future.”

Yuan started playing the piano when he was just four years old and living in Taiwan. At first, he played for the same reason most kids do—because his parents signed him up. But eventually music became his passion. “I enjoyed being able to completely put myself at the audience’s mercy, to express my feelings,” he says. “Throughout high school, this is what I lived by. This is what I wanted to do.”

Even as he pursues recruiting, Yuan is still not quite ready to make a final choice. He recently sent in applications to graduate school—to study music.

“We told him, my wife and I, just choose one—we support you,” says Hong Yuan, his father. “Just be happy, that’s all we ask.”