Calm and composed

Tristan Lu wins superior award at International Yamaha Concert



He takes his seat behind the mahogany grand piano, the stage becoming his island amongst a sea of parents and judges in the front seats. Recalling every note in his head, he feels that every hour of practice has paid off. This setting is all too familiar to him: he takes a breath and places his hands on the keys. 

If things had been different this year, this is how freshman Tristan Lu would have performed his piece “Espionage” at the international Yamaha Music School National Concert, to which he won the superior award, the highest award in his age division. Instead, Lu played his piece in a small studio, accompanied by an accordion player and a camera that recorded him. 

“I was really excited and honored to share my music with the world, although I was a little disappointed that I wouldn’t get to travel and perform live in Japan,” Lu said.

Lu has been playing piano competitively since he was four years old, inspired by his older sister who also began playing at this age. He has won various other awards for his abilities, including a national Yamaha competition for his composition “Storm” in 2018 and various other competitions in 2019 and 2020. Despite the accolades, Lu said that he was taken aback by this award. 

“It was a little surprising that my composition was chosen out of so many others, but I was glad that all my hard work and dedication over a year had paid off.”

In this competition, contenders were required to compose their own pieces and perform them to a panel of judges. The recordings of these performances were compiled into a YouTube live stream, and these judges would then determine a composition’s qualification to the next round. 

For his most recent piece ‘Espionage,’ Lu looked to various sources for inspiration.  According to Lu, the piece centered around the story of two spies who fell in love.

 “When I was composing ‘Espionage’, I started by looking at movie scores or video game scores, anything really. Then when I found an idea that I really like, I started working on it,” Lu said. “I spent the whole year working on ‘Espionage,’ so usually for these competitions it’s only one piece I compose per year.”

Something that became unique to this year’s competition was the absence of a stage to perform live on. While recording dilemmas such as audio cuts or poor video quality may have presented some issues, Lu said he felt these challenges, but he also tried to make the most of the situation. 

“When you’re performing live, you only get one take, but when you’re recording, you can keep trying to fix all of your mistakes,” Lu said. “Recording is a lot more stressful though because performing live is over quickly, but recording takes a lot more time and there’s a lot more pressure to get everything perfect.”

With various other interests and career paths in mind, Lu said he “isn’t sure” if he wants to pursue music in college. That being said, Lu will continue to play the piano for fun even if he chooses not to practice professionally.

“Learning to play piano has taught me a lot of different skills, like the importance of practice and dedication, which I think has made me more thoughtful,” Lu said. “I like having my own interpretations of music. Being able to express myself through music has been really important to me.”