Canadian Bruce Liu wins 2021 Chopin Competition; Lee Hyuk finishes without prize

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Canadian Bruce Liu wins 2021 Chopin Competition; Lee Hyuk finishes without prize

Bruce Xiaoyu Liu of Canada reacts after being announced as the winner of the 18th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, Poland, Thursday, local time. Reuters-Yonhap

By Park Ji-won

Canadian pianist Bruce Xiaoyu Liu won the first prize at the 18th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, Poland, on Thursday, while Korean national Lee Hyuk finished his final round without a prize.

The decision was made after 12 pianists from 10 countries competed for three days starting on Monday. The winner will receive 40,000 euros ($46,620) in prize money and a gold medal. Korean pianist Cho Seong-jin won the 17th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in 2015, becoming the first Korean national to win the award. The competition has been held every five years since 1927.

Katarzyna Popowa-zydron, the chairwoman of the jury, said the judges asked themselves, “What kind of Chopin do we have in the 21st century?” before choosing the winner.

The 18th competition was supposed to be held last year, but was delayed by one year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The winner said during a roundtable session after the announcement, “This is just a start. It is hard to keep freshness in music to continuously find new ideas. So I hope this is not the last point.”

Canadian Bruce Liu wins 2021 Chopin Competition; Lee Hyuk finishes without prize

Pianist Lee Hyuk / Courtesy of Taeuk Kang

Lee, the only Korean finalist of the race and a prodigy who also plays violin and chess, was largely expected to win one of the prizes, but failed to do so. He was the fifth Korean finalist following Lim Dong-min and Lim Dong-hyuk (third Prize ex aequo in 2005), Son Yeol-eum (2005) and Cho Seon-jin (first prize in 2015). Up to 14 Korean pianists made it to the preliminary round and seven were able to go to the main competition.

Lee debuted at the Kumho Prodigy Concert in 2012. In 2018, he won third prize at the Hamamatsu Piano Competition, the second prize at the Poshan Chopin International Piano Competition and the first prize at the 2nd Kiev International Piano Competition. He also won first prize at the Ignacy Jan Paderewski International Piano Competition in 2016.

Right before the final, Lee said in short interview videos for the Chopin competition that the composer means a lot to him and having a chance to express emotions of life through music at the competition was a dream for a Chopin fan such as himself.

“Chopin’s music is very important not only for me but for everyone. Chopin’s nickname is a poet of music, piano. Chopin expresses so many emotions of our life by playing piano and by writing notes. I like Chopin’s music so much. I am a fan of Chopin. So that was one of the biggest reasons that I decided to participate in this competition too. It was of course one of the biggest dreams for me ever and the dream came true … It is very important to make music like orchestra.”

Canadian Bruce Liu wins 2021 Chopin Competition; Lee Hyuk finishes without prize

Pianist Kyohei Sorita of Japan performs in the final round hearings of the 18th Chopin Piano Competition in the Chamber Hall of the National Philharmonic in Warsaw, Poland, Monday, local time. EPA-Yonhap

Meanwhile, nearly half of the finalists were Asian, and many of them won the prizes. Japanese pianist Kyohei Sorita won second prize second with Alexander Gadjiev from Italy/Slovenia. And Aimi Kobayashi, who was also a finalist of the 17th competition, won fourth prize with Jakub Kuszlik from Poland. J J Jun Li Bui, from Canada, also won sixth place.

This year’s competition drew 87 pianists from all over the world, including 22 from China, 16 from Poland, 14 from Japan and seven from Korea. Previous winners of the prestigious competition include legendary musicians such as Maurizio Pollini, Martha Argerich and Krystian Zimerman.

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