Bruce Xiaoyu Liu, a 24-year-old pianist from Montreal, has won first prize and the gold medal at the 18th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. Toronto’s JJ Jun Li Bui, 17, was awarded sixth prize.
They were two of 12 finalists who performed a concerto with the Warsaw Philharmonic and conductor Andrzej Boreyko in the competition’s final round, held on Oct. 18, 19 and 20.
Liu is a graduate of the Montreal Conservatoire, where he studied under Richard Raymond, and is currently a student of Đặng Thái Sơn, who won first prize at the Chopin Competition in 1980 and was a member of the jury this year.
Bui is a recent graduate of the Royal Conservatory of Music’s Taylor Academy, where he studied with Li Wang and Michael Berkovsky.
First prize comes with a $57,000 cash award; the sixth prize winner receives $10,000. In a press conference following the announcement of the prize winners, a spokesperson for the jury explained that due to the high level of musicianship at this edition of the competition, they awarded eight prizes instead of the usual six.
Second prize was awarded ex aequo to Alexander Gadjiev of Italy/Slovenia and Kyohei Sorita of Japan. Third prize went to Martin Garcia Garcia of Spain; fourth prize was awarded ex aequo to Japanese pianist Aimi Kobayashi and Polish pianist Jakub Kuszlik. Leonora Armellini, from Italy, received fifth prize.
“Being able to play Chopin in Warsaw is one of the best things you can imagine,” Liu said upon learning that he had won first prize. At the press conference, he added, “I’m happy to finally be able to sleep and party.”
To reach the competition’s final, Bui and Liu advanced through a preliminary round held in July (150 pianists took part), to then perform three successive solo recitals in October: Stage 1 (87 pianists), Stage 2 (45 pianists) and Stage 3 (23 pianists).
Here is Liu’s first prize-winning performance of Chopin’s Piano Concerto in E Minor:
Taking place every five years (six years this time due to the COVID-19 pandemic), the Chopin Piano Competition is considered to be the world’s most prestigious. Its first prize laureate is catapulted into the international spotlight with a busy schedule of concert engagements around the world and high-profile recording projects.
Past laureates include Maurizio Pollini (1960), Martha Argerich (1965), Garrick Ohlsson (1970), Krystian Zimerman (1975), Đặng Thái Sơn (1980), Yundi Li (2000) and Seong-Jin Cho (2015).
The prize winners of the competition’s 18th edition were chosen by a 17-member jury comprising Dmitri Alexeev, Sa Chen, Đặng Thái Sơn, Akiko Ebi, Philippe Giusiano, Nelson Goerner, Adam Harasiewicz, Krzysztof Jabłoński, Kevin Kenner, Arthur Moreira-Lima, Janusz Olejniczak, Piotr Paleczny, Ewa Pobłocka, Katarzyna Popowa-Zydroń, John Rink, Wojciech Świtała, and Dina Yoffe.
Other Canadians who took part in this edition of the Chopin Competition are Jessica Yuma, who reached the preliminary round, Eric Guo, who reached Stage 1, and Lingfei (Stephan) Xie, who competed for his native China but lives in Toronto and reached Stage 2.
In 2015, two of the Chopin Competition’s six laureates were Canadian: Charles Richard-Hamelin (second prize) and Tony Yike Yang (fifth prize). At 16, Yang was the youngest laureate in the competition’s history, a distinction he continues to hold.
Below, sixth prize-winner Bui’s recital from the competition’s Stage 3: