Classical Music

Introducing UNSW Orchestra soloist Kelly Liu


Australia’s exciting young pianist Kelly Liu is one to watch – and you’re about to witness her taking on a challenging piano concerto with musicians of the UNSW Orchestra.

The high-achieving pianist moved to Australia in 2010, and since enrolling at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music has completed her degree in piano performance, studying under prestigious classical pianist Professor Gerard Willems and now furthering her education under Dr Bernadette Harvey.

Kelly first struck the keys at just 5 years old, and by 14 was playing in her first public recital. In 2015, world-renowned concert pianist Paul Lewis selected the young talent to perform the Chopin Ballade No.4 in his masterclass. This November, she returns to Chopin, and will play his Piano Concerto No.1 with UNSW Orchestra. 

Ahead of her solo appearance in Term 3 concert Tableau Vivant, we discuss Kelly’s passions about music, artistic process, and even scratch the surface of her approach to performance anxiety.

Hi Kelly, thanks for the chat! Why not take a moment to introduce yourself?

Hi! My name is Kelly, and I am a recent graduate of UNSW. I am a nature and animal lover, and of course I am a music lover, too! Being a pianist is full of fun, but also has a lot of challenges.

How are you finding the preparation process for the concert? And why did you pick this specific concerto?

My preparation is at its final stage now, mainly on polishing and refining on phrases, especially the long phrases. I’m also experimenting some new techniques after my [recent] lesson. 

The reason why I picked this concerto is because I always adore and admire Chopin’s music. His musical language is so rich and unique and full of colours. Although some may argue about the orchestral part, both of his concertos are so beautifully written for the piano.

Why are you passionate about music? Are there any musicians that inspire you?

Music is emotional. It’s another world full of mysteries and wonders, and I will never get tired exploring it. 

To me, learning music is like a journey of discovering myself emotionally, physically, and spiritually. 

Most of my friends are musicians, and I am inspired by them all, especially my piano friends from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. I learn so much from them, and we help each other to grow.

What are some of the qualities you think make a great musician?

Persistence, perseverance, as well as good listening skills. 

I know how much patience it takes for me to sit at the piano for hours and hours a day, 365 days a year. It is almost like a religion, and you have to devote to it to achieve the sound you are after. 

Listening is also key because music is all about sound.

One experience common among musicians – even those who possess those remarkable qualities – is performance anxiety. Have you ever felt this? How do you manage it?

This is a big topic. Yes I have, and every time I perform I tend to get very nervous easily. So I try to take deep breaths before and during performances, and keep singing the melodies and following the characters in my head while I play. 

If you could meet any musician — composer or performer, regardless of time — who would it be?

If I was asked about this at different times, the answers could be very different. But now I want to meet Chopin. 

I have recently finished a huge book about him, and it’s called Fryderyk Chopin: A Life and Times [by Alan Walker]. I am not just in love with his music, but also the composer himself. If I could meet him, I would really love to hear him play this concerto. In fact, he played this concerto in its premiere back in 1830!

What’s your favourite piece of music?

It is hard to pick favourites, but I am certainly more drawn to music written in the Romantic period. Maybe that is why I chose the Chopin piano concerto!

As you continue your studies, what are you most looking forward to during the rehearsal process in Term 3?

I look forward to every aspect of it. The most is probably the spontaneous communication between the orchestra and the piano, because each time we play it’s going to be slightly different. 

I really enjoy those parts where the orchestra and piano are interwoven and creating beautiful dialogues.

Any words of advice for students pursuing music as a career?

To me, being a musician and pursuing music as a career are two different things.

Being a musician is a devotion to every piece you play, and you’ll find yourself spending an excessive amount of time and energy studying and analysing each piece. Taking music as a career comes with the financial and economic aspects of it.

My advice is, be a musician first.

Hear Kelly Liu perform in UNSW Orchestra Concert: Tableau Vivant, 7pm November 10 at Sir John Clancy Auditorium, UNSW. 

We collaborated with UNSW to bring you this interview with Kelly ahead of her solo performance in Tableau Vivant! Stay tuned for more stories from our Australian arts industry.

Images supplied.

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