A Canadian wins the Chopin

A Canadian wins the Chopin


norman lebrecht

October 21, 2021

The Canadian pianist Bruce Liu was announced in the small hours of the night as winner of the 18th Chopin Competition in Warsaw.

Liu, who entered under the name Bruce Xiaoyu Liu, is 24.

A graduate of the Montreal Conservatoire, he is continuing his studies with the Vietnamese-Canadian Dang Thai Son, who won the 1980 Chopin Competition and was a member of this year’s jury.

Joint second place was awarded to the Italian Alexander Gadjiev and the Japanese Kyohei Sorita.

A Pole, Jakub Kuszlik, won a special prize for the performance of Mazurkas.

Bruce Liu is now assured of an international career.

See also: Lessons to be learned from the Chopin Competition.

And: I’ve been listening to Liu since 2013


  • Insomnia says:

    Opinions aside, the announcement had no spec of grace- they should have congratulated the remaining participants of the Final first, they were left hanging and thinking they might be the winners, and then no one said a word to/about them, I can imagine how awkward it was to wait for hours and not even be acknowledged. I know everyone was so tired, but still

  • Insomnia says:

    Opinions aside, they should have congratulated the remaining participants of the Final first, not to have them hanging and thinking they may be the winners. They haven’t said a word to them or about them, it must be so awkward to wait for hours and not even have their names acknowledged. I know everyone was tired, but still

  • Mikal says:

    In recent years, there seem to be incredible Canadian artists coming out on the world stage and also as top prize winners. Yaanick Nezet-Seguin, James Ehnes, Jan Lisiecki, Timothy Chooi, Tony Siqi Yun, and now proudly…Bruce Liu.

    Perhaps climate change has unthawed the icy talents of this country.

  • Arthur Lindgren says:

    Over the years the jury process has become way too dominated by some prize-winners from previous years, the ones that despite their big win for some reason failed to make a big career. Their moment to shine now comes every five years, judging contestants in Warsaw. A case in point is the winner from 1980, the year when Pogorelich was launched into stardom despite his failure to bag a single prize while the actual laureate was quickly forgotten about by everyone (can’t be bothered to look his name up).

    Something similar will happen now as Hyuk Lee is poised to make a confident rise into the hearts and minds of audiences everywhere. You just watch. Feel free to judge for yourself, rounds 2 & 3 and the concerto on YouTube. Can’t keep a musical genius down.

    This is not to denigrate the achievement of this years’s winner, a perfectly capable and technically very proficient pianist whose playing gleams with the same brilliance as his hair or jacket. The problem is that something’s missing ‒ possibly the music. All the same kudos to his teacher. Hang on while I look his name up ‒ Dang Thai Son.

    • Chiba says:

      oh the irony – that ‘teacher’ (Dang Thai Son) was *the* winner in 1980 and has since become one of the most influential piano pedagogues and Chopinists. And Pogorelich turned out to be a flash in the pan, as tested by time. I get everyone has their favourites, but to say Bruce’s performances lacked ‘music’ itself is just absurd. He uncovered so many things in the score that we didn’t even know were there. It seems a common misconception that just because someone is technically brilliant, they are all about the fireworks and showing off. In Bruce’s case, I feel, technical brilliance went hand-in-hand with musicality of the highest order. It was a means to an end (not like with Pogorelich in 1980).

      • Pianist says:

        He can contribute to our music world be teaching and playing. Why does he need to sit on this jury? Where So many of his students are participating?

    • Tweettweet says:

      Fortunately, the audience (including the YouTube audience) liked Bruce Liu very much. In the comments it was clear he was a big favourite for the first prize.

      And I agree, Bruce is a wonderful musician who knows how to create magic.

    • Mark Mortimer says:

      Well put Arthur- Pogorelich was/is a spectacular pianist- whether one finds his willful interpretations to your taste or not- which is just what divided the 1980 jury (not just Argerich by the way- but Magaloff also- one of the great Chopin players of all time). The videos of Dang Thai Son in 1980 reveal a highly proficient player without being memorable in any particular way- & as you say- the cycle continues with his pupil- the current laureate. But good luck to him- he seems a nice lad who deserves some form of career.

    • BRUCEB says:

      “…while the actual laureate was quickly forgotten about by everyone (can’t be bothered to look his name up).”

      You actually don’t have to look up his name — it’s in the post that you clearly didn’t quite read 🙂

    • John Borstlap says:

      Music missing from Liu’s playing? Here is someone with blocked ears and cemented heart. Why would such people listen to classical music?

    • Von Carry-on says:

      The actual 1980 laureate whose name you finally took the trouble to look up held a North Vietnamese passport, which hindered him from starting a gang-busters career immediately following that competition. If you make the effort to watch Dang Thai Son’s youtubes from the 1980 competition, you will hear his pure, honest, poetic musicianship, which won over the jury. And if you watch Pogorelich’s youtubes from that competition, you will hear his arrogant, twisted, egomaniacal approach which tramples over Chopin’s music. The jury tried to teach him a lesson by blocking him from the finals, but such a narcissist is immune to lessons in humility. Mme. Argerich did him no favors with her hissy-fit exit, and as Pogorelich’s once astounding playing has since devolved into caricature over the last 20 years, she must be embarrassed to have been his champion.

  • Frank says:

    One thing that made Bruce Liu immediately stand out was his self-assured stage manner. His body language, his fingers, his hair, his suit, his everything said You Know You Want To Give Me That Prize. Fortunately the Chopin Prize has a tradition of second and third, even fifth prize winners having good careers, and hopefully Sorita and Gadjiev and the lovely Leonora A. will play big stages in the future.

  • Nijinsky says:

    I actually picked him out as would be winner, when I allowed potential interaction with the contestants left that was shared here, but then didn’t like it. although I didn’t look at every contestant and am sure there are more deserving of further attention, I only looked at what sparked interest beyond physical perception of names listed. Of those (not saying that there aren’t others), I think that Szymon Nehring should have at least gotten to the last round, and been given some sort of prize, because he’s more about music than effect, rather than something marketable with said generic “substance” to create an audience to market towards and make addicted to said effect.

    • Mark Mortimer says:

      Quite- Nijinsky- Lee is a perfectly serviceable modern day style competition laureate- but little to make him stand out- either musically or tonally on the instrument. I agree- Nehring should have won it.

      • Trifonovfan says:

        The judge on the jury will disagree Nehring should have won this.
        Because Polish Radio has already commented that no one was even close to Bruce Liu.
        All you have to do is to log on to the Chopin Institute Channel.

      • Trifonovfan says:

        How can Nehring win it when he wasn’t even good enough to make the top 12?
        How can he win it when he never got to play the E minor Concerto?
        Talk about delusional…

  • Jonathan Sutherland says:

    Bruce (Xiaoyu) Liu’s win was entirely justified.
    He is an immensely talented and inherently musical performer who played brilliantly in all stages of the competition.
    However the selection of ‘personality pianists’ Kyohei Sorita, Alexander Gadjiev and Martin Garcia Garcia in second and third place, when the most individual and original interpreter, Georgijs Osokins from Latvia, was eliminated after Stage II, defies all logic or rational explanation.
    The absence of Martha Argerich from the jury was sorely felt.
    When at least seven jurors had their own students as competitors, one needs more than pungent Chopin perfume to remove the odour of fishiness from the proceedings.

    • kh says:

      Yes, I quite agree. They picked a worthy winner, but the rest of the ranking (2nd-6th) is very debatable. I also don’t agree with the sonata and concerto prizes at all.

    • Hans says:

      Complete and utter nonsense to call Sorita a “personality pianist”. Sorita is such a complete artist; so intelligent, personal, and communicative. He reminds me of Lipatti and Cortot. Did you even listen to anything he played?

      • Jonathan Sutherland says:

        I was actually in the hall for Sorita’s Stage 3 performance.
        I can assure you that the in situ sound is utterly different to audio transmissions on television or radio.
        The Bb Minor Sonata was heavy and laboured, Mazurkas Op.56 anything but dance-like, the Largo in Eb Major ponderous and lacking in structure and the Ab Major Polonaise Op. 53 flashily fast and irredeemably uneven.
        How Mr Sorita managed to reach equal second place only his teacher Professor (and jury member) Paleczny can explain.

        • Hans says:

          I was also in the hall during all of Sorita’s rounds. While I thought his stage 3 was probably his least strong one, I’m sorry you failed to get the same impression I did. To each his own, I guess.

  • Insomnia says:

    It’ll also be great if we could evolve to celebrate all these hardworking sincere musicians, and how different Chopin can be in XXI.. there is this toxic air around these competitions, everyone is fighting over who the winner should have been, I know competition is a competition- but how do we avoid putting other musicians down in already challenging lifestyle

  • Piano Lover says:

    Well played but how long will he be remembered??

  • Piano Lover says:

    The piano Fazioli is extraordinary.Better than a Bösendorfer!

  • John Borstlap says:

    Liu: a superb master of the instrument, inspite of his age. Everything is there: intense musical expression, lightness of touch where needed, very subtle rubati, very subtle shading of colour, entirely assured perfect technique with an ease which seems superhuman, and clarity everywhere, the pedalling used as a colour. And everything under a type of control which comes across as total freedom, the type of control coming after having mastered all the obstacles so that all challenges become play and pleasure. Let’s hope he is careful when crossing the street so that he may live long and happily and bring joy to numerous music lovers.

  • Hans says:

    With all due respect to the winner, a very fine pianist in his own right, Kyohei Sorita was in a league of his own. An incredible ear for color, unfailingly great taste, revelatory ideas, and what a gorgeous sound production! Everyone who seriously listened to him immediately sensed something special; he reminds one of Cortot, Lipatti, Hofmann, Cherkassky, Rachmaninov…Mark my words: Kyohei Sorita will soon be established as one of the greatest musicians in the world.

    • kh says:

      That’s incredible. How can he remind one of Cortot, Lipatti, Hofmann, and Rachmaninoff at the same time? They are completely different pianists, some I would even call polar opposites! The pianists Sorita remind me of are Seong-Jin Cho and Zimerman, the same standard Chopin playing we’ve come to expect from this competition. Personally I’m glad this time they went with a winner of a different mould.

    • Jonathan Sutherland says:

      Cortot certainly had some similarities to Lipatti in bringing out lyrical cantilene but neither were at all stylistically comparable to Cherkassky or Rachmaninoff.
      To suggest so displays a lamentable lack of pianistic knowledge which obviously invalidates everything ‘Hans’ opines.

      • Hans says:

        Well, Cho and Zimerman are also polar opposites if you really know their playing well from live concerts. And who says a pianist cannot remind the listener of many vastly contrasting personalites at the same time? The greatest artists are all eclectic in same way or another. Nelson Freire, for example, can remind one of Arrau, Schnabel, and Friedman all at the same time… And I have known many of Cherkassky’s live recordings for many years, most of which you won’t find on youtube: they are vastly different from his recordings in the studio. I think if anyone here doesn’t know these golden age pianists well, it’s not me… pls go take your ad hominem attacks elsewhere.

  • A Pianist says:

    “Bruce Liu is now assured of an international career.”

    Was this sarcasm? I wish it were true for such competitions, but times have changed.

  • Pauker says:

    Aimi !!! ❤

  • Kandins Ky says:

    I am replying to someone who said Liu was serviceable and someone else (Nick?) who said he wasn’t an artist yet.
    I think Liu is already a joyous exponent of Chopin.

  • Kandins Ky says:

    Liu doesn’t sculpt theatrical ‘beautiful’ effects, instead there’s the generosity and beauty of extraordinary vivacious talent and what a natural affinity he has with the orchestra.