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Checking in with Junwen Liang, winner of the PYPA Piano Festival

courtesy of the artist

WRTI congratulates Junwen Liang, winner of the senior division of the 10th Annual Philadelphia Young Pianists’ Academy Piano Festival. The 27-year old Chinese-born pianist just finished his doctorate at Penn State, while serving as a piano teaching assistant.

Liang visited WRTI for an in-studio performance, and I had a chance to sit down and chat with him.

How did you come to take part in the PYPA Piano Festival?

I first learned about the PYPA festival in 2018. This is the third time I’ve participated, and I’m very happy to be back here. During a competition, you always feel the nerve-wracking moments before you enter the stage and even on the stage as you perform. Sometimes you have to make sure you’re in a very calm state and you feel physically comfortable so that you can observe what you’re hearing during the performance.

Junwen Liang and Kevin Gordon at WRTI
Ryan Hankins
Junwen Liang and Kevin Gordon at WRTI

What do the participants relate to one another during the course of the competition?

We end up talking about the pieces and how we feel about the performances and we always encourage one another, which is always important during a competition because you don’t want to feel like this person is actually my enemy.

What composer do you resonate with?

I definitely enjoy playing Chopin and Ravel, because at some point you really feel connected because of personal feelings. As I grow older and experience life more, I feel a deeper connection with composers as I feel happy or experience pain and it’s in my comfort zone to be able to perform my own feelings toward the music.

Junwen Liang, "Chopin - Etude in G-sharp minor, Op. 25 No. 6"

What originally brought you to the piano and classical music?

My father used to be a professional violinist. When I was four years old, he introduced me to a lot of piano pieces, like the Tchaikovsky piano concertos or the Chopin mazurkas. From that moment I enjoyed listening to piano music and I always wanted to try it. But it wasn’t until I was nine years old that my parents bought me my first piano. I was very fortunate that they were very supportive as I dove into classical music, and sent me to music school at age eleven.

Any advice for young pianists?

Practice, practice, practice. And strive to take advantage of as many opportunities as you can, whether in person or online.

Junwen Liang, "Liszt - Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 in C-sharp minor"

Junwen isn’t through with school yet. He now moves on to the Peabody Institute, where he’ll study with pianist Richard Goode.

A veteran broadcaster, Kevin garnered a wealth of experience in radio before taking the weekday classical host position from 2 to 6 PM at WRTI, where he was on the air until his retirement in March 2023.