Classical pianist Bruce Liu. Photo courtesy of Quist/Wikimedia Commons.

Classical pianist Bruce Liu has been around the world. He was born in Paris, France, to Chinese parents, and grew up in Montreal. He now brings his multi-cultural heritage and musicality to Seattle, performing with the Seattle Symphony on May 21.  

During this visit, Liu will perform works by Haydn, Chopin, Kapustin, Rameau, and Prokofiev. “It has been a dream of mine to combine this extreme, to combine Chopin with jazz, with Kapustin variations,” Liu said. “We forget very much that Chopin has this very improvisational side, spontaneous side, which of course combines with jazz perfectly. 

Liu will play Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2, also known as the Funeral March. “You have extreme trauma, extreme pain, and we’re talking about death, talking about a funeral march, so I think it cannot get any darker or any more painful than that,” Liu said. “And sometimes when you reach this deepest possible sadness, there is a certain joy that comes out. It’s very human, it’s very complicated emotions. 

Liu will also perform Selections of Rameau. “I think he’s a composer that deserves more attention,” Liu asserted. “To have the chance to combine little pieces by telling my own stories, this is also on the new album Waves that I recently released with Deutsche Grammophon. 

More than any single piece Liu will perform, he strives for a broad array of works.  “One of my main happinesses is diversity, variety, and contrast, perhaps due to my multi-cultural background,” he said. “I always really love contrast works more than a recital. 

This performance in Seattle is part of a lifelong dream for Liu. “Music has always been, for me, something that expresses kindness, generosity, sincerity for ourselves, purity,” he described. “Whenever I play music, I feel so clean, it really has this power to clean someone’s soul.”  

Liu feels music magnifies his natural personality. “It just makes me think that the whole world is so beautiful, and everything is beautiful,” he said. “I am a very optimistic person already and it makes me even more happy. 

Beginning his piano training at age eight, Liu found it wasn’t always easy. “To be very honest, the most important thing I learned is probably how to have patience,” he said. “I just remember whenever I have some passage that I cannot reach or cannot do well, I will leave it there and continue from there tomorrow and after tomorrow. 

He knows that for other pianists, efficient practice and discipline are important, but these have factored less into his development. “When I was younger, it was honestly purely about happiness and that whenever I feel I want to play music, I will do it,” he said.  

At age eleven, Liu began performing in public. “I absolutely cannot remember having any stressful feeling on stage,” he recalled. “It was a feeling of you just go there and do it, it was so powerful and natural. 

In 2021, Liu won First Prize in the XVIII International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. “Each event is really a very unique story and a case that gives us lessons and inspirations that we’re learning from in every possible way,” he said. “The most important for me was there was something inside of myself that I really wanted others to hear. I want to transmit this message, and this willingness of your voice is very, very important at the end. 

To share these inspirations and messages, Liu has toured widely. “Everyone cares about their career, but sometimes I try to remind myself what my intention was at the beginning,” he explained. “I always thought that there are so many things I want to express, and I should never forget the beautiful music. 

For Liu, music is not just a technical performance, but is also an emotional outpouring. “I want people to know there are such special feelings when you play for audiences, or when you try to connect with someone through love, and these emotions are something that I will never forget for the rest of my life,” he said. “For every kind of event, the emotion might suddenly come out, and this becomes very important for me to think about when I choose a program, when I choose music that I want to express and to tell my own story. 

This Seattle Symphony performance is Liu’s first visit to Seattle. “I’m always very excited to be in a city for the first time as there’s only one debut in your whole life, so I am trying to appreciate it as much as I can,” he said. “Just don’t mispronounce my name to Bruce Lee! 

Bruce Liu performs with the Seattle Symphony on May 21 at Benaroya Hall, 200 University Street, Seattle. 

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