Montrealer wins prestigious Chopin international piano award

A first-place win for Montreal pianist Bruce Xiaoyu Liu at the 18th Frederic Chopin piano competition is a victory that will be shared in some ways by Quebec's most prestigious music schools, suggested one of his peers.

Charles Richard-Hamelin, who lives in Montreal and took second prize at the 2015 edition of the Warsaw contest, says the French-Canadian city's pianists are bound to draw more attention in the wake of the top honour.

"We're on a good roll these days -- there's something happening in Montreal," the 32-year-old said in an interview from his home in the city.

"It's a success story for Bruce, of course, but it's a success story for our institutions here. Both of us were almost entirely formed in Montreal."

The 24-year-old Liu was named Thursday as the winner of the 40,000-euro (C$57,500) prize, a recognition that instantly elevates his status in the music community and will send him to perform in countries across the globe.

"Just the second prize was a big enough deal to change my life, so I can imagine what Bruce is going through," Richard-Hamelin said.

"I could also afford a house and a different life altogether, travelling the world and doing what I love, which is a dream for any pianist."

Between the two pianists, there's an eight-year age difference, but Richard-Hamelin said he's known Liu for some time. They've competed against each other twice, he said, with Liu beating him the first time and Richard-Hamelin coming out on top the second time.

"We kind of lost touch a little bit ... and then I (saw) him at the competition and he'd improved so much in the last few years and made such an impression," he said.

"I would say he's one of the most impressive pianists that I've ever heard."

Liu, who was born in Paris before moving to Canada, graduated from the Conservatoire de musique de Montreal where he studied under Richard Raymond for much of his youth.

The pair first met when Liu, then in his mid-teens, approached Raymond with a request to study privately under his guidance.

Already having his plate full with teaching at the conservatory, Raymond said he told Liu he couldn't take on such a responsibility. Yet in the days that followed, he said he couldn't shake the "astonishing" level of control Liu displayed at his young age at the piano.

"I told myself: This is all wrong. I need to go get this boy," Raymond recalled.

"So I got back in touch with him and I convinced him to come to the school and that's how it started."

Liu later studied at the Universite de Montreal where he worked with Dang Thai Son, another first-prize winner at the Chopin competition in 1980.

Raymond said he looks forward to giving Liu a "big hug" upon his return to Montreal and sharing some words about his big accomplishment.

"Sometimes you teach very talented kids but you don't know how far they're going to go," he said.

"But in this case it did work out, so when it passes we need to celebrate."

-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2021.

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