Montreal-trained Bruce (Xiaoyu) Liu wins prestigious Chopin piano competition in Warsaw

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The 24-year-old graduate of the Conservatoire de Montréal won in a dramatic fashion on Wednesday night.

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Canadian pianist born in Paris and raised in Montreal Bruce (Xiaoyu) Liu won the first prize of 40,000 euros at the Fryderyk Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw, one of the most prestigious competitions in the world.

The 24-year-old Montreal Conservatory graduate made a dramatic stand on Wednesday night with an emotionally refined and technically polished rendition of Piano Concerto in E minor, Op. 11.

The results arrived later than expected, shortly after 8 p.m. EST – 2 a.m. in Warsaw. The delay may have been caused by an abundance of tie finishes – ties – which pushed the list of top winners from six to eight.

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In a preliminary interview, Liu credited the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, which kept him out of public view for more than a year, with fostering a “more inner and more peaceful” state of mind.

“There wasn’t much we could do outside,” the pianist said. “I found more details in my music.”

He was the last of the 12 finalists to perform for three days in the Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall with the National Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Andrey (Andrzej in Polish) Boreyko.

The elimination process began in July with a preliminary cohort of 151 pianists out of a pool of candidates of over 500.

A former student of Conservatory teacher Richard Raymond, Liu is known to Montrealers for having won the grand prize of the OSM Standard Life Competition in 2012 at the prodigiously tender age of 15. He was also a finalist in the Montreal International Musical Competition in 2014 and won the Prix d’Europe 2015, an annual prize awarded to a promising young musician or singer from Quebec.

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“Bruce’s special signature is an incredible sense of focus combined with the ability to sculpt music with great inner subtlety,” Raymond wrote in an email. “He also has a powerful endurance, backed up by one of the most perfect piano techniques on Earth.”

Raymond noted that Liu added “Bruce” to his Chinese given name because many noticed his resemblance to martial arts icon Bruce Lee.

Liu also studied with Dang Thai Son, himself a former Montrealer and gold medalist of the 1980 Chopin Competition. Normally held every five years, the competition has been postponed to 2020 due to the pandemic.

Another Quebec link to Warsaw should be noted: Charles Richard-Hamelin, a native of the Lanaudière region, won second prize in the 2015 edition of the competition. His career accelerated as a result.

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Liu was competing against another Canadian finalist, JJ Jun Li Bui of Toronto, who finished with the sixth prize.

While the competition is over, three gala concerts were scheduled for Thursday, Friday and Saturday, each starting at 1 p.m. EST. Thursday was billed as the first prize concert, while Friday and Saturday were to be devoted to second and third prize respectively. Competition performances are archived for later viewing. An accessible platform is the YouTube channel of the Chopin Institute .

Social media was teeming with comments and buzz following the announcement. “I told you so,” said Liu fan on Facebook, London-based Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt, who noted that Liu chose a Fazioli piano, her favorite brand, for her concerto.

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“Deserves a medal,” she said of conductor Boreyko, former musical director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, who conducted repeated performances of the same two Chopin concertos. “So are the musicians,” Hewitt added.

The other winners of the Chopin Competition are: Alexander Gadjiev (Italy / Slovenia) ex aequo second prize; Kyohei Sorita (Japan), tied for second prize; Martin Garcia Garcia (Spain), third prize; Aimi Kobayashi (Japan), tied for fourth prize; Jakub Kuszlik (Poland), tied for fourth prize; Leonora Armellini (Italy), fifth prize.

A version of this story appeared in La Scena Musicale.

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