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sm25-6+7_BI_p29_Thomas Yu_sm23-5_BI_pXX 20-07-07 10:17 Page 29


away. So, when it came
time to do a residency, Yu Taking place once every four years – in nor-
chose Toronto’s Mount mal times – the Cliburn International Ama-
Sinai Hospital in order to teur Piano Competition is among the most
be close to his next great prestigious competitions for amateur pi-
mentor, Marc Durand. anists. Whereas professional competitions
Durand is the forefa- tend to have a maximum age limit, this
ther of numerous Cana- competition, established in 1999, has a min-
dian musical greats who imum age limit of 35. Anyone who does not
are now top performers perform, teach, or compose piano music for
and professors around as a primary professional pursuit or for fi-
the world. Through six nancial benefit qualifies as an “amateur.”
years of private lessons in This year, a total of 205 non-profes-
Toronto and two years at sional pianists, age 35 to 78, representing
the Banff Centre, Durand 32 countries, submitted applications. Of
left an indelible mark on the 48 selected as competitors, the aver-
Yu’s approach to music age competitor age is 49. There were 14
and beyond. from the business/management sector, 13
“Marc taught me in from IT/software, seven from medicine,
PHOTO : V. TONY HAUSER steps what it means to five from accounting/finance, four from
play music, from a law, two from academia, and one realtor,

homas Yu is the unanimous winner of the physical to a mental to a spiritual level. He was one translator and one playwright.
2016 Cliburn International Amateur not just my piano teacher but also a life men- Rather than cancel the event outright, the
Piano Competition, for which he took tor. Even now, I constantly ask myself, ‘What Cliburn has postponed it to the spring of 2022.
home the gold medal as well as Press and would Marc do?’ (There will be a regular edition of the Van Cliburn
Audience Awards. He has captured nu- “When I play, I focus on the instinctual ani- International Piano Competition in 2021.)
merous top prizes in other amateur piano mal part of you that your brain and intellect
competitions, played in such prestigious ven- can never keep up with. To cite an analogy that Details will be announced at a later date. Competi-
ues as Carnegie Hall and the Berlin Philhar- Marc would always use, you can teach a dog all tors and festival participants accepted for this year’s
monie, and collaborated with such esteemed these tricks, but when it gets excited and wants event will be given first right of refusal to take part in
ensembles as the Toronto Symphony Orches- to bark, it barks. Similarly, you can prepare the the 2022 Amateur Competition.
tra and the BBC Orchestra of Wales. In addi- music with your brain, but when it comes time
tion to all this, he is a full-time periodontist to play, you need to focus on that lower energy
with a private practice in Calgary. that makes you want to bark.”
This month, we followed up with Yu to talk
about how life has changed since his 2016 vic- NEXT STEPS
tory at what is considered the pinnacle of am- Yu just gave a performance of Saint-Saëns’s
ateur piano competitions. Fifth Piano Concerto with the Saskatoon Sym-
“Life hasn’t changed all that much,” he said. phony Orchestra this past February. His next
“There are more performing opportunities, engagement was to be in Fort Worth, Texas as
which I am of course thankful for, but I am part of the 2020 Cliburn Competition festivi-
still the same person I always have been. Win- ties – unfortunately cancelled, amid much else,
ning the competition represents for me more by coronavirus precautions.
than anything else, the culmination of all the Beyond concerts, Yu is working on creating
hard work that I’ve put in through the years.” a masterclass festival for amateur pianists.
He adds: “There is one change since 2016, “Masterclasses were so instrumental to my
but it’s more due to life events rather than win- growth as a musician, and there currently is a
ning the competition. Before the Cliburn, I had gap for it among amateur musicians. I am
all the time after work to practice, but now, I working on filling that gap in Calgary, but there
am the father of two young kids. My wife was is so much to juggle in my life. Hopefully a pro-
pregnant with our first child at the time of the gram or festival will be available in two years.”
Cliburn. As a result, I really have had to im- As for even further in the future?
prove my time management and effectiveness. “I would like to get my kids to play the
Now, I really cherish the time I do get to prac- piano, as they are showing some promise for
tice, which is usually after my kids’ bedtimes.” that. As for me, I don’t think I will be doing
any more competitions. My next life goal is to
THE SHAPING OF A MUSICIAN record. I think making a recording is the one
Yu began piano at age four and credits Bonnie Ni- missing piece of my experience that I would
cholson in Saskatoon as his formative mentor. like to discover. I’ll still be performing live
When it came time to go to university, Yu enrolled though. The stage, I’ve realized, will always be
in dental school but the piano bug would not go a very vital part of my life.” LSM


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