Get to know Bruce Liu

The first time you performed with the Philharmonia Orchestra, it was for a streamed performance during lockdown. What was your first impression of the orchestra?

I was actually the last-minute replacement for this concert. It was really memorable for me because I had the chance to play Tchaikovsky’s Second Piano Concerto, which is so rarely played but a true masterpiece to me. It was also the first time that Santtu conducted this piece, and I didn’t know Santtu or the orchestra. I was impressed by how quickly they react, like chamber musicians, especially in the second movement which is very famous for its trio section.


That performance has reached a huge global audience on the Philharmonia’s YouTube channel. What do you think about how social media is changing how people discover and listen to classical music?

To be very honest, I don’t really think much about it. For my own channels, I just love to share what I feel. In the moment I like to be very spontaneous. I like to share beautiful things that I see through my eyes that perhaps others haven’t discovered or to share emotions and feelings.


You’ve performed with conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali several times now, with the Philharmonia and the New York Philharmonic. What difference does getting to know a conductor make to your performances together?

Being good friends helps a lot – it’s always nice to know the person. The first time Santtu and I played together, we instantly had extremely good musical chemistry. But for the first concert we could only rehearse, work, and talk about music. The second time I worked with him in New York, we really got to know each other much better, talking about interests, hobbies, and drinks. I look forward to playing with Santtu and the orchestra again.

When you’re bringing a new piece, but with people that you trust; it’s like this feeling that you’re playing at home, and this is extremely important for me as I’m always traveling. Traveling is of course very exciting as I get to see new things. But for me, staying in a particular hotel or visiting certain restaurants, allows for places that you feel particularly attached to, like a comfort zone. Especially for me as I’m a Taurus, I need that steady place that I know that I can trust, and with the Philharmonia, it feels like I can create warmer music because of that.


How do you approach learning and performing a piece like Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2, that’s been played and recorded by so many great pianists, and that some listeners will have heard many times before?

I asked myself the same question during my teenage years, but now I try not to overthink about this kind of question. I think everyone is unique and I probably know myself much better than five years ago as my identity and my conception of music has solidified, and I know what I really want to focus on with my style of playing. I don’t try to be different from others as I think this is a dangerous thought that can lead us to a very different nature. It is important to be yourself and to know your own strengths and weaknesses.

Approaching this piece, I always think of the landscape that Rachmaninov had in his mind. I compare Rachmaninov’s Russia to Canada, where I lived the longest – with its vast landscape and wild nature. You can feel the loneliness in its size, and deep down there is a kind of melancholy and sadness. The paintings of Isaac Levitan and Ilya Repin have inspired me a lot in my childhood.


For anyone who hasn’t been to a live orchestral concert before, how would you describe the experience / the atmosphere?

Being in a live concert event is the only place I feel I can be completely touched emotionally. Across the screen it can always be nice creating your own perfect conditions and enjoying the details. But focusing on the music in the concert hall creates this three-dimensional feeling with every sound and noise integrated in the music. We’re all enjoying music together in a common space about a message that is understood differently yet in a shared language. I only see this atmosphere elsewhere in movies, but I miss this kind of craziness where you can throw food, flowers and clothes on the stage. I think we have been missing some kind of fun.


Apart from the concert, what are you looking forward to most about being back in London?

Meeting friends, visiting an incredible cultural city and, last but not least, afternoon tea as I am a big fan of sweet food!


You’re performing with the Philharmonia on a major European tour. What’s your least favourite thing about international touring? And what’s your favourite thing?

For all musicians, there can only be one answer and it has to be airports! But there are so many good things that we sometimes forget like meeting incredible people and eating all kinds of food. It’s always fascinating to be on tour as by the end we are like soulmates as the members of orchestra have created this incredible chemistry. We will be playing live in venues eight times – it’s basically like a whole period of dating together. If there’s enough time, I would love to bring members of the orchestra and Santtu together to do some nice hobbies. I would love to introduce them to karting, bowling or snooker – I’m kind of still living in the 80s!


Bruce joins us to play Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto on Sunday 7 April in London, and across Europe from Tuesday 9 April – Tuesday 16 April.