Frank Wu, the co-winner of the top prize at the 2010 IIYM International Piano Competition, is a senior at Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, IL, and a student of Brenda Huang at the Music Institute of Chicago. He has appeared with the Trio Trifecta on NPR’s From the Top and on radio station WFMT broadcasts. Frank has won prizes in the Walgreens National Concerto Competition, the Music Festival in Honor of Confucius and Illinois Music Teachers Association competitions.
Frank, how have you been since we last saw you?
Busy. Besides my practicing, I have all my college applications to complete. I am applying to places at which I can double major, with music as one of the majors. Yale is my top choice. Plus I am on my school’s Science Olympiad team. We were 11th nationally last year—this year, we hope to break the top ten. One of the events in this year’s Olympiad is called “Sounds of Music”. You have to build your own instruments, play them and then be interviewed on the physics of how the instruments work. One of our coaches is an engineer and has a machine shop in his house. This will help!
How do you find time for everything?
I pay full attention in school, so I don’t have to review when I get home. I plan my time a lot, so I can use every free moment of it, before school, at lunch and even on the bus. I usually can get all my work done before I get home, so I have time for the piano. I think the hard work is worth it. I use my time to achieve something and I’m happy with that.
I loved the way you challenged yourself with your competition program, playing some really big pieces. How do you go about choosing repertoire?
My teacher gives me suggestions, and I pick my favorites. I’m not deliberately trying to pick the hardest, but, actually, all the works she gives me are difficult. I appreciate her doing that. Because I think that, if I don’t stretch myself and get out of my comfort zone, I won’t improve. If you want to get better, you have to be a little bit uncomfortable. That’s what I think. I don’t have a favorite composer, necessarily, but I favor late-Romantic, Impressionistic and Contemporary repertoire—things that are newer in sound. And works that have a tinge of sadness to them. Right now, all my pieces are quite serious, so I’m looking forward to learning some showpieces that are lighter and more virtuosic.
The technical demands of these works are fierce. Do you have a special practice regimen that helps you learn them?
I don’t have a magical routine. The only way to make pieces work is lots of slow practice with a metronome. There’s no substitute! I was lucky to have a good foundation and did lots of pure technique when I was younger. Now, I work on technique more in the context of the repertoire. I’ve been playing hard pieces for years, so my technique has grown with that.
How did you become interested in piano in the first place?
My story is very mundane. My parents are not musicians, but at a young age I liked listening to instrumental music. Learning an instrument was a natural extension. I’m lucky that I have parents who are supportive and give me the opportunity to pursue my studies. When I started, there was a point that practicing piano was a chore and a burden. But after a while, I started to enjoy the beauty of music and started to love playing the piano. I still do.
Student Update: Chelsea de Souza (interviewed in the October 2010 IIYM E-Newsletter) attended the IIYM Summer Music Academy on an IIYM scholarship as a result of winning the MusicQuest Competition (India).
Clark Morris, executive director of the internationally respected Harriman-Jewell Concert Series, Kansas City, MO, oversees all aspects of the Series including financial and artistic decisions. With more than 20 years of presenting experience, Mr. Morris is continuing the legacy of his mentor and Series founder, Richard Harriman, in bringing the world’s best artists to Kansas City. He holds a B.A. from William Jewell College and an M.B.A. from MidAmerica Nazarene University, and is a graduate of the Executive Program for Nonprofit Leaders in the Arts at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Clark lives in Liberty, Missouri, with his wife and two sons. He served on the jury of the 2010 IIYM International Piano Competition.
I’m glad we could catch up with you!
Yes, I’m on my annual Fall trip to New York [this interview took place over the phone] to hear performances and meet with managements. I’ll be hearing Alexey Lyubimov tonight at the White Nights Festival—I go to hear the New York Philharmonic first, and then go to the recital at 10:30 p.m.
What qualities do you look for in a pianist you are considering booking for the Harriman-Jewell Series?
I like to hear pianists whom I think have something to say musically. They should be intriguing to the audience and have some marketability. And simply play astonishingly well! I want to be enthralled by their playing. Great artists have charisma. It comes across in their stage presence and the way they approach their instrument. There’s a special rapport they build with an audience that’s not just based on their physical appearance. It can wonderful to experience the feeling between an audience and a performer on stage—you can’t get that from a recording. And, finally, we need a balanced recital program—some contemporary music mixed with more familiar, classic pieces.
Our IIYM students sometimes are told that the audience for piano recitals is going down.
I don’t think the audience is really going down—in Kansas City, it’s going up. Our Discovery Series brings in a completely new audience. They love the piano, and we have more pianists on the series than any other instrumentalist or singer. For a novice audience, the piano is more accessible. Lots of people have at least some exposure to the piano, even if it’s only knowing someone who has taken piano lessons.
What can we pianists do to help build audiences for concerts?
Be creative about creating opportunities to play. Volunteer a piece or two at a party, family gathering, church or social event. The more people get exposed to virtuosic playing, the more they want to encounter it.
What advice would you give to a young pianist wanting to build a career playing concerts?
Become the best pianist you can possibly be. I’m still astonished at pianists and so admire what they do. We just had Emanuel Ax at the Harriman-Jewell. We’ve had him about ten times, but my jaw still drops at how beautiful his music is. He holds this whole concert in his head and plays it so flawlessly, and in such an elegant and regal manner.
University of Kansas, Lawrence KS
Summer Music Academy
3 Week Session - July 10-29, 2011
2 Week Session 1 - July 10-22, 2011
2 Week Session 2 - July 17-29, 2011
International Piano Competition
Semi-finals - July 9, 2011
Finals - July 11, 2011
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