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A series of conversations with the Cliburn competitors
(Pronounced fee-fee dong)
Born: Shenzhen, China
Lives: New York, where she is pursuing a master's degree in music at the Juilliard School.
Background: Dong gave her first recital at age 10, followed three years later by her orchestral debut with the Macau Youth Symphony Orchestra. She has since made debuts at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center and at the Louvre Auditorium, and with the Juilliard, Aspen Music Festival, Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Shanxi symphony orchestras. She earned a bachelor's degree at Juilliard.
Favorite music: Besides classical, Dong loves to listen to pop music and is gaining an appreciation for jazz through a course at Juilliard.
When she's not practicing: She loves to explore New York and its many museums and restaurants. She and friends make the trek to Flushing in Queens for all-you-can-eat hot pots, an Asian dish of meat, seafood, vegetables and other seasonings simmered in broth or water.
A culture shock: As a teenager in China, Dong watched old episodes of Friends to learn about the United States, and she still counts the television show among her all-time favorites. Her favorite character? Chandler.
Daily schedule: Dong is a night owl and an early riser, which means she lives for her afternoon nap.
Why she performs: "It's very exciting for me. You never know what's going to happen," she says. "You get to share your passion with an entire audience, which is thrilling."
Her style: Reporting that she played with infectious delight and spitfire personality, a critic once referred to Dong as the happiest contestant at a competition. "I am a really happy person," she says, "and I'm at my happiest when I'm performing."
Cliburn plans: "I just want to play my best. That is what matters."
-- Sarah Bahari