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Discover the First Laureate of the Chopin Competition

Interview with Bruce (Xiaoyu) Liu

Of the 500 young pianists who entered the 18th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition, only one came out on top. Come discover the exceptional talent of this year’s winner, as part of the Bozar Next Generation series.

This article is part of

Bozar Next Generation: 25 Years

How are you feeling after your victory at the Chopin Competition? Can you figure out what happened?

Absolutely not, because I was not expecting the result at all. When I entered the final stage, I was already so happy because I could really play all the repertoire I had prepared. When they announced that I got the 1st prize, my first reaction was that I was a bit scared, because I was really tired after the competition. And in mind I understood it means there is more work coming. I remember how anxious I was at first. But now, one month after the end of the Chopin Competition, I am getting used to the situation and start to enjoy it, as every new place gives you a new kind of inspiration. It is quite a fulfilling experience.


When did you start preparing yourself for the competition? And how did you prepare?

I started preparing two years ago, I planned one year but the competition was postponed. Before that I was working on many different kinds of pieces. I think that in a way the pandemic actually helped me to progress. I think that the crucial thing that helped me, which I have already said many times, is the recordings. With the pandemic everything went online. There is a new of education coming with the online classes. Of course, I still have lessons with my teacher, we are lucky to be in the same city. But for masterclasses I had to record online and it actually activated the critical side of myself. Normally we do not like to record ourselves as artists, we hate to do that. Then recording sounds different from the way we actually play. When you listen to yourself playing live, it is different. On a recording it sounds 100% bad. In an objective way it really helped me. When you record yourself, you start to believe that what other people tell you is actually true. Otherwise you cannot convince yourself.


How did you manage to handle such a great pressure throughout the competition?

I think for me a very important factor is just to use your imagination, as during normal practice in a studio you should imagine you are actually on stage. Because with technology, the audio, the video, you can perfectly imagine it. When I was going on stage I was not so nervous anymore because I was so familiar with the National Philharmonic in Warsaw. I already walked on this stage in my mind hundreds of times. So naturally in my mind I was getting used to it. That was very important for me.

Can you explain how you selected the pieces for the competition?

It is very tricky at this competition, on the one hand easy, on the other actually not so easy. Both ways. Everyone – the audience, the jury, all are experts in Chopin, everyone knows more than I do. Whatever piece you chose, it does not really matter because they can immediately figure out the level of understanding, the comprehension you have. In this was it is easy. But it is difficult because everybody plays this music, so it is very hard to make something new out of it. Every piece has been played so many times. The combination of pieces is very important. I tried to take care of the logic between my pieces from the characters to the keys, I was always trying to find some logic between them.


Why did you choose the 1st piano concerto for the finals?

Personally, I prefer the 2nd Concerto. And I remember my teacher said it is shorter so you make less mistakes in a competition. I think that I was making the 1st Concerto more convincing in my way. I just felt more comfortable. The 1st is more played. Still the orchestra knows both of them so well. So, I think for me there was no clear reason which one to choose, I was hesitating for a long time because I played both. Maybe it was just a gamble.


What is unique about this music?

I think Chopin’s music never gets you bored. I say that, although I always complain. Since the competition I have played the e-minor concerto 10 times in just 2-3 weeks. I am joking that I am tired of this. But every time I play it with a different orchestra, in a different hall, with a different conductor, on different piano… Everything is different. Someone said that all we have in common is difference. This difference really makes me always inspired. Chopin’s music is a bit like this. There are endless ways of interpreting it. Performing it. You always have something new to bring to people. That is very important in classical art. To keep growing. This music remains very close to peoples’ hearts, that is why they are so moved when they hear it.


Why did you choose Fazioli among all the pianos?

We only had fifteen minutes for choosing between five pianos. It is a very tough challenge. I remember the moment I heard the Fazioli in the hall, the Warsaw Philharmonic. Someone was trying the piano before me. And I was extremely touched by the tone. I think the sonority is very noble and charming. I felt I will be able to make reach colours with this instrument. Of course, we are more used to play on a Yamaha or a Steinway because of our daily practice in schools. So, it was risky choice because I never played a Fazioli at a competition before. I really tried to get used to this piano throughout the competition. And I think it paid of very well. When you are out of the comfort zone, you get the inspiration. Then in the end you realize that you are on another level.


Can you briefly present the programme of your recital at Bozar?

I will play part of my programme done during the competition, including the Rondo, Ballad No. 2, Sonata No. 2 and Grande polonaise brillante. It is a great mix of the dramatic, the charming, the versatile side of Chopin. Everything is in this programme. I like the key relationship between the rondo and ballad. A black and white opposition, from joy to the very dramatic sonata. And a charming young Chopin piece at the end. It is a great combination for a one-hour recital. I really look forward to playing in the beautiful hall in Brussels.


Is this a dream come true or a beginning of a story?

It is definitely a dream come true but in a way that I never really even had the courage to dream about this. I had never thought it would be for me. The moment I realized I was, perhaps, next of these legendary pianists from the list of past winners, I felt the huge responsibility. I need to constantly find freshness and the machine in myself to continue producing the new inspiration. It is the hardest thing in the world we have today. Of course, this is just the beginning, but he beginning of a very exciting and fascinating adventure.