Pianist Elaine Wu and Her Legendary Stories

November 21, 2017
By Wang RuochenEditor: Hewater Liu
Pianist Elaine Wu and Her Legendary Stories

Elaine Wu [cnr.cn]


The names of Lang Lang and Li Yundi, both of whom are prominent young pianists in contemporary China, will immediately come into our minds when we talk about piano in our daily lives.

However, this year witnessed an 87-year-old Chinese woman with her legendary stories catching people's eye after a video of her piano solo of China's classic music Butterfly Lovers was shared on social media in February.

Elaine Wu Yili comes from an intellectual family in east China's Shanghai. She was inspired to learn to play the piano when she was six years old and watched an American film, in which the music of the world famous Fantaisie-Impromptu by Polish composer and pianist Chopin (1810-1849) deeply impressed her.

Wu claimed first prize in the Shanghai Children's Piano Contest during her first year of playing the musical instrument. Three years later, she became the only teenage student of famous Italian musician Mario Paci (1878-1946), who had lived with her family in Shanghai for nearly three decades.

Under the insistence of her mother, the school authorities allowed Wu to continue to play the piano in both junior and senior high schools.

Wu became famous overnight when she gave her debut performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No.1 in collaboration with Shanghai Symphony Orchestra at Shanghai Lyceum Theatre in 1948.

Wu joined in 1954 the Beijing-based Central Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO), predecessor of the China National Symphony Orchestra (CNSO). One year later, she assumed the post of leading piano soloist in the organization.

Wu was often invited to play for visiting foreign leaders and followed her colleagues to perform overseas in the following years.

Another highlight of her performing career happened when she became the first Chinese to play the piano part of the violin concerto Butterfly Lovers in 1959 in celebration of the tenth founding anniversary of the People's Republic of China.

Wu was recognized as China's state-level pianist and met by Premier Zhou Enlai (1898-1976) in 1962.

During her first visit to the U.S. in 1981, Wu followed several musical instructors from the school of Franz Liszt to learn a newly emergent teaching method. Five years later, she chose to live there during her second time of visit.

A female Singaporean musician invited Wu to continue her teaching in the southeastern Asian country when they met each other and shared their understanding of music at a concert in San Francisco in 1993.

Therefore, she has lived in Singapore and persisted in her instruction ever since then.


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