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Libby Yu - Pianist

Music as an expression of self

An interview article by Rosemary Phillips, 2002

Libby Yu - pianist
Libby Yu
Pianist Libby Yu was the first prize winner of the 27th CBC Radio National Competition for Young Performers and in 1995 was awarded a Diploma of Honour at the 13th International Frédéric Chopin Piano Competition held in Warsaw, Poland. As a concert pianist she has performed around the world and has several recordings, her latest being “Brahms’ Sonatas and Songs” with Nocolo Eugelmi and Mariateresa Magisano for Skylark Music.

Life changes in 2002

Since she was three the piano has been centre stage in Libby Yu's life, that is until recently. "I got married last month," explained Libby excitedly in an interview this week. "I took myself from being a pianist for the last six months and became a wedding planner - but of course I practiced."

So Libby Yu has been busy in a different way as she finds her own harmony with marriage and a partner in her life.

"Music is an expression of myself," she added. That self has undergone many changes since she wowed Nanaimo audiences in 1998. Four years later she has moved on in her schooling, her teaching and her playing. "I practically learned how to play piano when I learned how to speak, so when I play a phrase I feel something, it's an emotion that can be conveyed through harmonies. And magical things happen. When learning a piece I will also go through something in my life, a memory. The experience is then expressed through the music."

Playing Shostokovich

While doing research on Shostokovich in preparation for her performance of Piano Concerto No. 1 Op. 35, she found certain similarities between the composer and herself. "He entered the Chopin International Competition in Warsaw at about age 21, the same age I was when I entered. His birthday is one day before mine and he wrote the Concerto No. 1 when he was 27 - I'm 28 right now (2002)."

But that's where the similarities end. "It's hard to understand how he felt (while composing) because we don't live that life, of Stalin's regime," continued Libby. "In the second movement the piano has a single line melody. It sounds empty and alone, and then later the trumpet plays the melody, and that is his voice coming through. The final movement is very fast and rhythmical, playing in chaos, but the piano breaks off and plays solo, something that is almost comical. It could be him wanting to break free from whatever is holding him."

Libby is anything but wanting to break free. "Married life is great. My husband is an accountant so we are different in that way, one of those matches where we compliment each other. He's my best friend. He knows who I am."

An early beginning

But it took Libby until high school to realize who she was - a pianist. "I actually started playing when I was three. There were three of us, cousins, and we all learned on the same piano. It came naturally with me. I had originally thought of going into the sciences. I felt there were expectations from society, like going into being a doctor, because I was doing so well academically. In Grade 11, I got more positive enforcement from a piano teacher and began to understand what I was playing. Then I also realized that I enjoy being on stage."

Now with her bachelor and master's degree from UBC under her belt and a year of study at the New England Conservatory in Boston, along with performing for orchestras across North America and Europe, Libby returned to Vancouver to work on her doctorate of musical arts in piano performance.

"I have been studying with professor Lee Kum-Sing for about twelve years now. He's almost like a dad," she added.

The love of teaching children piano

Performing is not her only musical passion. "I love teaching and cultivating children's lives," she continued. "It's neat how music and life are a cycle. When I was learning music as a child I was also learning about life. I'm getting to the point now of turning it around and teaching the children."

While helping children with their future she has plans of her own which include not only her new home and life with her marriage partner, but also teaching at the university level. "I also love playing chamber music. That's something I would like to do more of, along with travelling and performing."

Work commissioned by CBC

Meanwhile, a work is being commissioned by CBC for her, and next year (2003) it will be broadcast across Canada and throughout Europe. When asked about another great Canadian pianist, Glen Gould, recently remembered in CBC special programs, she commented, "He was an interesting personality. His performances are the type I can listen to over and over again. There's inspiration. He was often criticized for doing things differently but he was an incredible pianist."

Update 2012: Libby has now earned her Doctorate of Musical Arts from the University of British Columbia. You can find more information about her career and teaching studio, and her formal biography at Libby Yu's website.

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Copyright Rosemary Phillips, Quills Quotes & Notes Enterprises, 2012
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