Bruce Liu: How I won the Chopin Competition

Bruce Liu: How I won the Chopin Competition


norman lebrecht

November 21, 2021

From a new interview with CBC Canada:

‘A lot of people come to the competition with a program that they have prepared so well and they tried to bring that onstage, as stable as possible. But me, until the last minute, I was still trying to find new ideas. It’s a bit risky, you know, but I was really trying to find new things until the last minute that I was backstage. I think that was the challenge, actually, to not get bored of yourself after playing these pieces and practising them for thousands of hours.

(Since the competition) ‘I’ve already played Chopin’s E Minor Concerto seven times in 10 days. It was a tsunami of scheduling. And yeah, I really wanted to go home [to Montreal] after the competition — it’s really tiring, really intense — but then you realize you still have to be out for a long time. But I’m getting used to it. It’s a new adventure and challenge.’




  • John Borstlap says:

    That’s it: keeping the music fresh in your mind and not let it fossilize. That is a sign of musical insight. Classical music (especially Chopin’s) was never conceived as museum pieces but as something living. Hence the margin in interpretation, the margin which cannot be notated but can only be understood, and this kind of understanding is subjective and irrational. This means that at the center of interpretation is the matter of notation.

    We know that Chopin often struggled like hell with the notation of his music, puzzling about the question what to notate and what not, and how, because he knew the unnotational margin too well as a performer. The same with Brahms, who also was a performer and tried to notate as less as possible. Debussy – who was a wonderful performer of his own works – also struggled with notation, being a perfecionist like Chopin. Schoenberg however, who was not a performer, tried to notate as much as possible, often going much beyond the possible, even invented his own impractical score writing which had to be translated by the publisher.

    When a composer understands performing, he offers the performer the right margin to fill the music with his own subjectivity, which brings the music to life.

    • BRUCEB says:

      Reminds me of what pianist friends have pointed out about Liszt’s “impractical” pedal markings, e.g. just a mark at the beginning of a measure and nothing else. Obviously if you leave the pedal down you will be playing clusters by the time you get to the end of the bar. Liszt, who was known to perform from time to time, was obviously just saying “yah yah, just use the pedal – you know what to do.”

      Also reminds me of a story I read about the young Toscanini asking Verdi a question (I want to say it was about ‘Otello,’ but it doesn’t really matter). He asked if it was OK to take time in a certain spot although there was nothing marked. Verdi’s response was something along the lines of “Of course you should! Surely you don’t expect me to put in everything?

  • Doing the same concerto 7 times in a row must really spoil it for the performer and, eventually, for the audiences 🙁

    • Piano Lover says:

      And therefore for the concerto itself!!!!

    • Colin says:

      Is it the same audience for each of the seven performances?

      If it spoils it for the performer, he/she can give his/her fees back.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Yes, that was utterly awful and should not be repeated. This treated the performers like show exhibits.

    • BRUCEB says:

      If you stop thinking and just decide to be bored, then yes.

      Or you can see each performance as a new experience, and stay interested (and interesting). I’ve heard that’s possible.

  • Ya what says:

    Well if he gets bored of playing Chopin 1 so many times I’m sure there are several hundred young pianists willing to replace him!

  • Paul Wells says:

    The jurors released their version of how he won a couple of weeks ago.—jurors'-scoring

    • Arthur Kaptainis says:

      Essentially a thumbs-up/thumbs-down system. Interesting.

    • the silent one says:

      As a person who listened to the competition in Warsaw this year and also read the score sheet, this score is a joke. If someone is willing to compare the scores and listen again, he will understand.

      • Pianist says:

        100% agree! It’s absolutely not logical and impossible. Have being in Warsaw too. Listened almost everything. A Big Joke.

    • Tweettweet says:

      It’s a pity that the individual scoring of the finals are not published. But great that Bruce Liu is the undisputed winner. He’s also greatly loved by the audience.

  • Pianist says:

    Maybe they have searched for new ideas too?

  • Nick says:

    He also won by choosing the safest possible repertoire at every stage in the competition. I found nothing about his playing original. In short, risk-taking is what I would say he did not demonstrate at all. In fact, it is clear to me that he went to lengths further than *almost* anyone else I heard to not be risk-taker. It’s not to say that he is not good. He is very, very good. But they all were, or they wouldn’t have been in the competition. I could go into gross detail about this, but nobody reads a rambling post, especially about something they have made up their minds about already.
    Moving on.