Arts concert review

Bruce Liu showcases his virtuosity in Boston debut

Liu is a rising star in the classical music world

10360 bruce liu
Press photo of Bruce Liu for Waves, a Deutsche Grammophon album.
Photo courtesy of Christoph Köstlin

Bruce Liu 

Piano Recital 

Presented by Celebrity Series of Boston 

Mar. 23, 2024 

NEC Jordan Hall


Bruce Liu made his Boston debut in New England Conservatory’s (NEC) Jordan Hall on Saturday night. The repertoire was well-chosen, as each piece focused on a different technique that exemplified his virtuosity. From the Baroque to the Impressionist eras, Liu’s magnificent renditions of challenging pieces held the packed audience spellbound.

The 2021 winner of the 18th Chopin Competition, Liu is a rising star in the classical world. After his breakthrough, Liu had his first world tour in 2022, collaborating with major orchestras such as the San Francisco Philharmonic. In 2023, Liu released Waves, a Deutsche Grammophon album featuring the works of Jean-Philippe Rameau, Charles-Valentin Alkan, and Maurice Ravel. Liu played some pieces from Waves for this performance, including selected short works by Rameau and Ravel’s Miroirs.  

Liu began the performance with a selection of Rameau’s works. He played the trills in “Les Tendres Plaintes” elegantly, as they sounded crystal clear. After “Plaintes” followed “Les Cyclopes,” a piece that had a lovely staccato. It was wonderful to see Liu play the arpeggios so well, lifting his fingers off the keys gracefully. He played the accents with a flourish and strong emphasis on the downbeat notes. 

On the other hand, “Menuets I et II” had a playful nature. Liu embodied this energy, as his fingers made leaps in the air like a dancer’s prance without being exaggerated. His gentle nods and slight head movements further channeled the nonchalant spirit in “Menuets,” encouraging listeners to move along to the triple meter at an andantino tempo. In “Les Sauvages,” Liu effectively highlighted the various aspects of the piece by playing the melody boldly while sprinkling intricate trills at the same time. 

In “Gavotte et six doubles,” Liu finely captured the piece’s somber yet gentle quality. Though “Gavotte” started with a jovial mood, he ended the piece with an interesting twist: a minor key that made the piece not feel fully resolved. As a whole, Liu performed Rameau’s works with great precision to detail, from the well-balanced polyphony to the gliding ascending notes. 

Afterwards, Liu performed Frederic Chopin’s Variations on “Là ci darem la mano” from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. In Largo, the first variation, Liu played the descending chromatic notes with some rubato, which helped to create a dreamy sound. Liu smoothly transitioned from one variation to the next, gradually increasing the tempo so that he ended up entering a state of fervor that reflected Don Giovanni’s character. The accents sounded grand, while the sustaining chords had traces of Don Giovanni’s pompous personality. His playing was impressive, whether it was the crossing over of hands or the rapid succession of descending notes at the end. When he finished playing, the audience stood up to applaud, with yells of “Bravo!”. 

After intermission, Liu played Ravel’s Miroirs, an iconic impressionistic piano work. Liu played the rolling chromatic notes in “Noctuelles” as if they were like ripples of water, constantly changing shape and direction. Liu ended “Noctuelles” with a well-developed crescendo buildup to the trills, as this created tension in the piece. While “Noctuelles” sounded mysterious, “Oiseaux tristes” had a solemn mood. Immersed in thought, Liu played the opening notes beautifully, as they sounded like birdsong with an echoing effect. 

After “Oiseaux tristes” was “Une Barque sur l’océan,” the most famous piece in Miroirs. His arms and hands moved across the entire keyboard effortlessly, playing the rolling arpeggios and the glissandos that resembled the movement of waves. Watching him play was mesmerizing because he perfectly encapsulated the duality of calmness and intensity in the ocean, a force of nature that is cyclic and dynamic. 

Whereas “Une Barque sur l’océan” was remarkable for creating sounds that evoked images of the ocean’s waves, “Alborada del Gracioso” was memorable for its Spanish musical theme. The light staccato made the piece feel like a lively dance, which contrasted well with the loud, brassy notes on the upbeats. Miroirs ended with “La Vallée des cloches,” a contemplative piece with chords that sounded like the gentle striking of a bell, indicating the nonlinear passage of time.

The performance ended with Franz Liszt’s Réminiscences de Don Juan de Mozart. Like the Chopin Variations, Réminiscences is also based on Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Liu exquisitely conveyed the character’s emotions, especially the inner turmoil in the beginning of the piece. The rubato was well-executed, and the sudden contrast in dynamics from forte to piano was a pleasant surprise. Watching Liu play the ornamental passages was thrilling, as the fast sixteenth notes made the piece feel like an action-packed story. He ended the celebratory piece flawlessly, lifting his right hand off the piano high in the air. The performance ended with thunderous applause and cheers from the audience. 

Before officially ending the performance, Liu played Bach’s Prelude in B Minor, arranged by Alexander Siloti. Unlike the rapid and intense music in Réminiscences, Prelude was calming and pensive. After more clapping, Liu came back to the stage to play Chopin’s Minute Waltz. His fingers were like miniature dancers, spinning in circles during the legato and making small turns for the trills. The light-hearted piece was a great way to end the concert, and the audience rose to give him a standing ovation. 

From Rameau to Ravel, Liu’s performance was stunning not only for his mastery of various techniques, but also for his magnetic stage presence that enriched the concert experience. This is only the start of his soloist career, and I can’t wait to watch him perform at future concerts.