Student Wins First Prize in Chopin Competition

At an age when many kids are just discovering the sandbox, Katherine Liu ’23 made her public performance debut. The gifted pianist was 4 years old and had been playing for a year. “I don’t think I was nervous,” she says, though she admits she barely remembers the occasion. “I was really just a toddler.”
Over spring break, Liu added to her long list of awards and honors by taking first prize at the X Chopin International Piano Competition in Hartford, Connecticut. Liu competed in the Young Artist division, for performers up to age 17. She was up against pianists from across the U.S. and around the world, performing two pieces by Frédéric Chopin, a Beethoven sonata, and Prokofiev’s “Suggestion Diabolique.”

Liu, at age 14, is a seasoned veteran of the competition circuit, and like all true competitors, she is never complacent about her own performance. “I always like to challenge myself to do better,” she says. “I can never say I did my absolute best, but I try to do my best within a realistic range. You have to be realistic about what you’re capable of.” The judges were far less severe, Liu reports. At the competition level, technical ability is a given—but Liu’s performance went well beyond mere competence. “They said I was able to communicate, to talk to the audience. I wasn’t just hitting the right notes; I was also telling the story.”

It comes as no surprise to learn that a lot of hard work goes into achieving at this level. But it might come as a surprise to learn just how much hard work it takes. Liu says she practices four hours a day on weekdays and six or seven hours on each weekend day. “Only with that amount of time can I improve the most,” she says.

Liu, who entered Rivers in sixth grade, chose the school because of its Conservatory Program and Rivers’s culture of supporting serious student musicians, which meant that she could opt out of sports in favor of music study. The eighth grader also excels in math and is currently in 11th grade honors pre-calculus.

Liu also learned recently that she is one of 14 young musicians chosen from around the world to participate in the Cliburn International Junior Piano Competition and Festival in Dallas in June. As a non-competing festival participant, Liu will have the opportunity to take part in master classes, private lessons, workshops, and other elective activities, with all expenses paid by the Cliburn Foundation. She’s excited about the opportunity to work hard, perform, and polish her skills. “It’s a privilege and an honor to work with world class teachers,” she says. “You have to do your very best, even though it’s not a competition. You still want to amaze the judges.”