Our 2017 Concerto Competition winner Justin Gu, 15, of Andover, is no stranger to competitions, nor great stages! A student of Niva Fried for the past six years, Justin has already played in Carnegie Hall. See him perform with the Orchestra of Indian Hill on Saturday, April 22.
What was your first introduction to music?
My dad had bought a grand Kawai piano when I was five years old. I was very excited when I came back from school in kindergarten and heard the sound of my dad playing the piano. I was very interested in learning how to play the piano. Everyday my dad would teach me and my brother as well. Often, I didn’t let my brother play because I enjoyed playing so much. After two years of learning with my dad, I finally got a teacher. After two years, I started with Niva Fried at Indian Hill Music School, at age 9. Today, I am still currently learning from her.
How often do you practice? When is your favorite time to practice?
On weekdays, I try to practice as much as I can, trying to fit in at least one hour. I would usually practice during the night after I finish all my school homework and projects. On weekends, I always practice piano right after I eat breakfast. I practice piano for at least an hour during the morning. Later at night, I practice at least another hour before I go to bed.
You live in Andover – what brings you to Indian Hill for your lessons?
I go to Indian Hill for my lessons because my teacher, Niva Fried, teaches here. Indian Hill is also a great music school. There are great teachers and students that bring life to the community. There are many recitals and competitions which give us chances to perform in front of others. Listening to other Indian Hill students is a great way to enjoy music and also learn. It is a great experience to be part of the Indian Hill community, and it is amazing to see students improve over the years.
As soon as I put my hands on the keys, it felt as if I drifted into my own world.
You have played in Carnegie Hall! What does it feel like to perform on that grand stage?
When I was ten years old, I auditioned for the American Fine Arts Festival to get a chance to play at Carnegie Hall. I was so fortunate to be selected by the judges — it was the first time that I have ever played in front of such a large audience. The piano was one of the best pianos I’ve ever played in my life. Before I started to play, I was extremely nervous because of how many people were watching me. As soon as I put my hands on the keys, it felt as if I drifted into my own world. I felt much less nervous once I started to play and it felt as if the whole audience disappeared. Every second on that stage was such an amazing and memorable experience for me.
Who is your favorite composer?
One of my favorite composers is Beethoven. There has always been something about his music that fascinates me, and I can never stop listening to him. After understanding his personal life and some of the struggles he went through, it is just truly amazing what he could do. I have played many Beethoven Sonatas, and his works have always interested me in playing more.
What do you dream of pursuing in life?
Getting into a good college. After that, I do not know for sure where my path is taking me. In school, my favorite subjects are math and science. Some ideas that I have for when I grow up are becoming a computer engineer, or a doctor.
You have won several competitions in the past few years! How do you handle nerves and get into the mindset to compete?
My first piano competition was in 2011 in the MMTA (Massachusetts Music Teachers Association) competition. I remember I had a very tough time trying to sleep the day before. On the day of the competition, I could feel my heartbeat getting faster as I got closer to the piano. Even when I was playing, I still felt very nervous. Now, I still get a little bit nervous before a competition, but once I start playing, it seems like all the feelings of nervousness disappear. To get into the mindset before a competition, I only listen to my competition pieces and avoid listening to current pop songs. I start doing this a couple of days before the competition.
Justin will perform the first movement of Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No. 2 with Orchestra of Indian Hill on Saturday, April 22 at 7:30pm at Littleton High School Performing Arts Center. Buy Tickets