"American Icons" (2010). In 2010, pianist Ji Liu joint Academy's Symphonic Brass and Prof. James Watson, together, they recorded this album featuring some of the most famous and iconic works of the whole of twentieth-century music in arrangement for symphonic brass including a fresh orchestrated version of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.
"This American anthology is well named... In Rhapsody in Blue – with its opening glissando astonishingly delivered by a trumpet – pianist Liu Ji finds comedy and tenderness and he’s less brittle than Donohoe under Rattle (EMI, 12/87). Both the careful scoring and this well-balanced recording make sure that the piano is not overwhelmed, as often happens."
——Gramophone Magazine, June 2011
PIANO ENCORES (2015) is the second album from piano sensation Ji Liu. A collection of awe-inspiring works by some of the world's greatest composers, including Beethoven, Chopin and Rachmaninov. 18 stunning showstoppers played beautifully by Chart No.1 pianist Ji Liu - sure to get any audience on their feet. Available now at AMAZON and iTunes.
In this stunning album inspired by "Fire and Water", Ji Liu draws on the ancient Chinese five-element theory of Wu-Xing to beautifully illustrate fire and water. Enjoy soothing and mellow sounds that brilliantly reflect the calming character of water, alongside contrasting intense and fast-paced pieces inspired by the element of fire.
Pianist Ji Liu talks to Classic FM's Anne-Marie Minhall about his debut solo album, Piano Reflections, and breakdancing. Obviously.
Working with Ji Liu
Piano sensation Ji Liu and his producer Andrew Cornall talk about the process of making his second album, Piano Encores.
Live at Bristol Proms
Ji Liu plays one of Bach's monumental keyboard masterpieces, Goldberg Variations at the prestigious and creative Bristol Proms in the Bristol Old Vic.
Ji Liu Plays Schumann Toccata in C Major Op.7
The Toccata in C major, Op. 7 by Robert Schumann, was completed in 1836. When the work was completed in 1836, Schumann believed it was the "hardest piece ever written".
Ji Liu Plays Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue
Ji Liu performs Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue with Maestro Vasily Petrenko and Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra during their tour in China in 2014.
Ji Liu Plays Blumenfeld Etude for Left Hand Alone Op.36
Remembered today as the teacher of Vladimir Horowitz and Simon Barere (also of Maria Grinberg, Dmitry Tiomkin and Heinrich Neuhaus), Blumenfeld was also a virtuoso pianist himself. This Etude for Left Hand Alone shows his great vision on piano technique and artistry.
Ji Liu Plays Flight of the Bumblebee transcribed by Cziffra
Ji Liu Plays In That Place Wholly Far Away
EDITOR'S CHOICE, 5 stars review by Ms. Erica Worth
Yet another new pianist on the scene. But wait – this is different! Here is a young pianist with a rare sense of inborn musicality. The London-based, Shanghai-born Ji Liu has a technique to match any virtuoso, however, it is his sensitive and unpretentious musicality that shines forth in this well-recorded debut album. How rare it is to hear a pianist satisfied with presenting the music as written and not forcing any personal idiosyncrasies on the performance.
The voicing of the opening Mendelssohn/Rachmaninov is played with great elegance, a Liu trademark you also hear in the Liszt Liebestraum No 3. His 'Moonlight' Sonata might present a slightly slower middle movement than we normally hear, but again that only underlines the healthy and unforced way with which he approaches this well-known work. Rest assured that the fast third movement shows fire and energy, also evidenced in the Saint-Saëns Danse macabre that closes the disc.
His way with the two Chopin Nocturnes is classy, and the C minor builds up to a well-controlled climax. It's fun to hear a composition by Chinese composer Wencheng and the elaborate Schubert Ständchentranscription and both played with charm and finesse. Liu's Debussy Suite Bergamasque could very well be one of the best modern recordings, especially the 'Clair de lune', which is refreshingly free of sentimentality and flows naturally into the final 'Passepied'. Yes, there are too many pianists around these days, but way too few of them are anything like Ji Liu.
Review by Colin Anderson
"This is an impressive studio debut for Ji Liu, and he's been very well recorded on a good-sounding instrument. Original pieces for the piano include a brace of Chopin Nocturnes, the E flat (Opus 9/2) and the C minor (Opus 48/1), both given shapely and affecting renditions, intimately and gently touched, the pianist seemingly oblivious of the microphones and making inviting music for us to share...It is rare to find a young pianist who combines stellar technique and refined musicianship to such an advanced degree as does Ji Liu. In fact, the Saint-Saëns (Danse Macabre) is rather special in its elegance, clarity and organic control...and more than confirms him as a major talent."
Review by Colin Anderson
Liszt Totentanz with Orchestra at Southbank Centre
'…there was much to impress in Ji Liu's fearless glissandos and a saturnine lyricism that attracted supernatural suggestion…. Ji Liu remained as cool as a cucumber as his fingers played with fire….this was a fine performance of a masterpiece and established Ji Liu as one to watch.'
Mail on Sunday
Review by David Mellor
If you want to introduce someone to the joys of the classical piano, this album is hard to beat. Ji Liu, now in his mid-20s, was born in Shanghai but has lived in London since 2007. Last year he made a big breakthrough with Piano Reflections, a debut album that shot to the top of the Official UK Classical Chart. This follow-up disc is if anything even better, showing real development in his confidence and musicianship.
Liu is a fine player technically, perhaps not a show-stopper like Lang Lang, but possessed of something his compatriot thinks he can do without- judgment. Whereas Lang Lang continually pulls the music around to pleas his ego, Ji Liu's considerable talents are firmly placed at the service of the music he plays here, in a wide-ranging recital that includes Chopin and Gershwin favourites, but also stretches out to embrace rarer stuff.
There are two pleasing Chinese pieces, Colourful Clouds Chasing The Moon, and the In That Place Wholly Faraway. He also displays no lack of virtuosity in Arcadi Volodos's fiendishly difficult transcription of Mozart's Turkish March, and no lack of showmanship in the jazz pianist Leon Doucet's Chopinata, a new one on me, and a real discovery.
Soundwise, the recording made last August on Merseyside, is of the highest quality and, at more than 71 minutes, is longer than most similar offerings. So even if you know a lot about the classical piano, there's still no reason to hesitate.
Bach Goldberg Variations at Royal Concert Hall
"The audience... surely left exhilarated by beautifully delicate playing, consummate technical control and an entirely convincing translation of a piece originally written for harpsichord into the piano's sound world. Ji did not announce the name of his encore but, even if he had played nothing else, its wit, delicacy and total mastery of tonal colour would have convinced the audience that they were in the presence of a world-class pianist."
Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.2 at Royal Liverpool PHilharmonic Hall
Rachmaninov's impossibly romantic Second Piano Concerto, the musical equivalent of a big, pillowy peony, played in gorgeous Technicolor by the orchestra, and with a lovely lightness by Ji Liu.The 25-year-old – wisp thin, straight-backed and un-showy – has a stillness about him, and an elegant, long-fingered, lyrical touch.There was smooth, sympathetic support from the Phil, including a beautifully sweet clarinet solo from Angelo Montanaro, and a pleasing rounded sound.
Selected Featured Interviews
Featured interview from Literaturnaya Gazeta
On 4 July the 3rd Krasnoyarsk International Music Festival of the Asia-Pacific Region will come to an end. This cultural forum, featuring performers from 19 countries, including China, Korea, Japan, Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Thailand and Philippines, as well as many Russian ensembles, has made a comeback following a seventeen-year absence. Various concert venues in the city staged everything from symphonic work, opera and ballet to folk, jazz, pop and rock music.
One performer at the festival was 22-year-old Chinese pianist JI Liu. He agreed to answer our questions.
Literaturnaya Gazeta (LG): You are the youngest performer at this festival...
Ji Liu (JL): In December last year I was invited to perform in the Grand Hall at the Moscow State Conservatory. While I was filling in my travel documents, I found out about the call for applications for this festival. I sent a video of a performance of mine for the qualifying round and got through... I love playing in Russia, and especially in Siberia - it feels like a crossroads, a confluence of cultures. Russian audiences are unique, the one of the best in the world. I think Russians are very receptive to art.
LG: Who is your ideal pianist?
JL: Richter, Gilels and Horowitz. My Chinese teacher studied in Russia under Jakov Zak at the Moscow State Conservatory, and I also studied with Dimitri Bashkirov in Madrid before moved to London. So I have a close link with the Russian piano school.
LG: Famously, in ancient China, artists were traditionally not divided up according to their skills. Talented people could do everything - play an instrument, write poems and draw. When they tired of epithets, they would take out their ink pot; and when they had run out of paint, they would compose some couplets. Aside from music do you excel in any other art forms?
JL: I write poems and compose a little - I'm taking a composition class at the Royal Academy of Music/ I love setting my poems to my own vocal pieces of music. I don't draw, but I have a passion for Western European Fine Arts.
LG: The entire concert hall was amazed by your performance of Debussy. Impressionist music requires a particular immersion in its images, finely nuanced playing and a feel for the musical colour. Yet, you manage to achieve all this with surprising balance. How do you do it?
JL: I find Impressionism music the most natural to perform. I would say that Debussy's music reminds me of Chinese ideography, where each hieroglyph or symbol is an image in itself. Like Chinese artists, Debussy leaves empty spaces on the canvas, full of hidden meaning. And the colour of the sound also has great significance in Debussy.
LG: If you are so fond of Impressionist and Romantic music, why did you include a work by Beethoven in the programme? Must it surely be difficult for a performer to play such contrasting compositions in one concert?
JL: I admire Beethoven both as a person as a composer. I wanted to programme my concert with the force and energy that pervades his music. I was trying to show different aspects of myself to the listener.
LG: What are your future creative plans?
JL: I want to become a pianist and composer who can weave different genres, from Baroque to contemporary music.
On a cold, crisp morning, I prepare to meet Ji Liu at the Royal Academy of Music, his place of study for the last six years. Over a cup of tea, we chat about his time there and what the future holds for him…
Where did your piano studies take place?
I have been passionate about music since I was a child. At the age of 15 I moved to Madrid to study with Dmitri Bashkirov at the Escuela Superior de Musica Reina Sofia, before taking up a scholarship to study with Christopher Elton at the Royal Academy of Music. This summer I was taken on by Young Classical Artists Trust (YCAT), with whom over the next few years I will be developing my solo career at an international level.
Tell us a bit about your PhD.
I’m starting my PhD at King’s College London in January. It’s going to be called ‘The Beauty of Imperfection’, and will feature a big case study of the Schubert piano sonatas at its centre.
My earliest encounter with Schubert’s unfinished works was 5 years ago. Schubert’s compositions are complicated. Why did he leave so many unfinished? Often, it was simply because he didn’t have enough time to finish them! Sometimes, what he made was so innovative that it wasn’t possible to find a solution – he left them intentionally unfinished.
What’s the nature of your PhD? Is it academic or performance-based?
As a performer, it seems unusual to do a PhD. However, at King’s, it won’t be a totally academic thing. I obviously have to write a dissertation, but it’s combined with a lot of performance, so it allows me to approach the Schubert project in a more ‘contemporary’ way.
So you think it’s important to think about music academically?
I think we have to be able to explain what our intentions as performers are. If we don’t know what to do or think about, how will the audience have any chance of understanding what we have to say? Emotion in performance is obviously very important, but it’s equally important to know and think about what you’re performing.
What other projects did you undertake before deciding to do a PhD?
During my Masters, I did a project about piano music and sand animation, called ‘When Sand Met Sound’. With sand art, you start with a plain plate of sand, and swipe to create images. In a way, it shares a lot with music – it’s very much about time and improvisation.
I wanted to create a duo between the two art forms – not something where the music accompanies the sand or vice versa. I wanted it to depict a story, so I used vivid pieces, like the Danse Macabre or Liebestraum. Hopefully it means that this music can be introduced to a wider audience, not just to those who are interested in classical music.
Have you always had an interest in visual art?
As a pianist, the audience always asks me if I see images when I perform, but I can’t really answer this exactly. It’s true that I have a visual memory, that I can see the score in my head, but hearing the audience ask these questions inspires me to think about what else I might see when I perform. My sand art project, in a way, was trying to show people how and what we think of when we listen to music. It wasn’t meant to be something superficial or theatrical – I wanted to help people understand the music better. Music can’t be seen or heard really, only experienced.
So, what’s the plan for the future?
My plans are always to continue building core repertoire, to not be afraid to play so called ‘popular’ works, and at the same time to challenge audiences with different ways of programming contemporary music. I’m looking forward to releasing my new album which will feature many ‘popular’ pieces such as Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata, some Chopin Nocturnes and Liszt’s Liebestraum. Ultimately I hope that people will define me as a ‘musician’, rather than simply a ‘pianist’. Although the piano is my primary study and first identity, I also compose, love playing chamber music and am fascinated by visual art, theatre, dance, literature, philosophy, and so on.
What are your other interests?
I breakdance. Most people reel back in horror when they hear this, because of the danger to my fingers! However, it increases the flexibility of my body, and makes me aware of my whole body, meaning I don’t just obsess over my fingers and forget everything else. It makes my soul freer – in the same way, I don’t restrict my musical taste. I play jazz and blues, read a lot, and enjoy movies as well.
Nov. 10, 2017
Lamberhurst Music Festival, UK
Nov. 18, 2017
Britannia Royal College, Dartmouth, UK
For solo keyboard instrument
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For small ensemble
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