For more information about the Cliburn International Amateur Competition, visit http://www.cliburn.org.
Ten years ago, I made (at that time) a difficult decision not to pursue the dream to be a concert pianist. In part, it was because I did not have the guts or talent and dedication to actually do it. Though I didn’t know it, I was already carving a path towards being an amateur pianist, I was just too naive to notice it. Thanks to some life-changing experiences and talking the right mentors, I made a life-changing decision to enter the 2006 Paris Concours des Grand Amateurs. There, I was introduced to an entirely different atmosphere of music. People who loved music but had a different profession, but still had a passion to play. I immediately felt like I belonged. I met the director, Gerard Bekerman, and he truly made me believe that being an “amateur professional” could be possible. Since then, I have been fortunate enough to experience things that have been beyond my original dreams.
(2006 Paris, 1st place)
Jumping to present day, it seems that my musical life has evolved. I don’t have the same motivations as I used to in traveling to exotic places and playing in dream venues. In the past it was to accomplish fame and feed my ego. I’m still honestly appreciative of it, but my desire to play has become different. It’s difficult to explain, but in general, if just one person in the audience is moved in a way they did not expect, I have accomplished a goal of sharing something that is deep within my soul. It goes beyond the flash of audiences and into something much more personal.
(2012 Manchester, tied 1st place with Robert Finley)
Now is also the right time to enter what might be last competition. Ever since I won the Paris competition, I have looked at the Van Cliburn International Amateur competition as the other big contest to be involved with. Both competitions have a fanfare about them that is not matched elsewhere. I have been told to prepare for an almost excessive amount of press (something that my old self would be very excited about!). I even remember asking the Cliburn organization if they would consider lowering the age limit (35) but they said no. Instead I have waited my turn, and now in two weeks the goal to compete will come to fruition!
(2009 Vienna, 1st place)
I’ve chosen a mix of pieces ranging from the Classical period up to the Modern era. For the preliminary round, I have chosen to represent my Canadian prairie background with Butterflies and Bobcats. The second round will be pieces are ones where I feel I am at my most poetic. They include Reflets dans l’eau (Debussy), Scherzo No. 3 (Chopin), and Widmung (Liszt-Schumann). The semifinals will include a short piece written by my piano teacher, Marc Durand, and the ultimate sonata, the Beethoven Opus 111. This piece has been with me for almost 20 years, and now is the time for me to bring it to the international stage. Every time I play it, I feel a sense of growth. With two successful performances of it in Germany recently, I feel confident bringing it to Texas. Some may disagree with my choice of such a personal piece, as everyone plays it differently. If you start the second movement in a tempo that disagrees with the jury, it’s basically over. But there has to be some risk at a competition. My hope is that they are convinced of my interpretation, which is more along the Classical style.
If things go well, I will then have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play with the Fort Worth Symphony, under the baton of actor Damon Gupton. I’m excited to hopefuly have this chance, as I will be playing something I have never performed before. The Cliburn competition provided a list of movements from concerti that you could select just one. Other than the Mozart 21, there wasn’t anything I had played before. I chose the Saint Saëns Concerto No. 5 (Egyptian), last movement. It is another risky choice, as it is one of the shortest movements in all the list provided. That said, it is extremely fun (and fast) to play, and will show a technical side that I don’t always show. If the orchestra can keep up with the tempo that I hope to play it at, it could be incredible.
I am really looking forward to sharing this experience with my wife, Michelle. I am also dedicating every note to my mother, so there is a much deeper meaning to my playing this time. Maybe this will be a story-book ending to a decade of competitions for me. Maybe it will be a huge disappointment, and maybe I will have a new drive to keep doing what I do. Whatever the case, I have been waiting a very long time for this moment and will put my best foot (and fingers) forward.
Anyone who dares to play Beethoven's last Piano Sonata Opus 111 must be fearless and confident in his skills. In the case of Thomas Yu, both are true...[He] plays the piece with elegance and depth...and his interpretation was the highlight of the festival day.Süddeutsche Zeitung, Germany's largest newspaper, translated.