Following coast to coast auditions, York music student Colin Liu was one of only four clarinet players offered a spot in March with the National Youth Orchestra of Canada (NYOC). The orchestra receives an average of 500 applications a year from across Canada for 100 highly-coveted positions. As an internationally renowned training ground for young orchestral musicians, the NYOC’s alumni form the core of major Canadian orchestras and are found in many prominent international orchestras.
But Liu is an atypical musician. His passion for music is matched only by his passion for athletics. An avid hockey player, he’s won second place finishes in provincial hockey competitions and gold medals with the Chinese National Junior Men’s hockey team.
"I’m probably the only person who’s brought hockey equipment to an orchestra rehearsal and carried three clarinets to the locker room for hockey practice afterwards," Liu laughed. "I got used to strange looks from people wondering if I’m in the wrong place."
Left: Colin Liu
In addition, Liu earned an Honours BSc in kinesiology and health science from York in 2007 and will graduate in June with an Honours BFA degree in classical music performance – he earned a total of 210 credits in five years at York, enough for two honours degrees, which would usually take four years each. He is working on adding advanced certificates in athletic therapy and ice hockey coaching to his credentials. He’s provincially certified as a Level III trainer in hockey and nationally accredited as a strength and conditioning specialist and personal trainer.
In August, Lui will head to his home-town of Beijing to work as a volunteer with the sport medicine staff at the 2008 Olympics. The volunteer work will build on his experience as a liaison in an international cooperative sport medicine program involving York and China’s national sports administration and training centre.
Liu will also be touring with the NYOC this summer, with concerts starting in London, Ont., on July 23 and ending August 10 at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall. Stops in between include Ottawa, Kingston, Montreal, Quebec City and Long Island, New York.
His skills as a clarinetist have been honed at York under the tutelage of clarinetist Professor Patricia Wait. "We’re immensely proud of Colin," said Wait. "A woodwind position in the NYOC is one of the most sought after opportunities that young musicians nationwide aspire to. Colin has been an inspiration to those around him and a joy to teach."
"Professor Wait is an incredible teacher," Liu said. "She showed me the world of extreme virtuosity and fine artistry that the clarinet is capable of."
Right: Colin Liu in net with the York Lions
No stranger to orchestral performance, Liu is currently principal clarinet of the York University Symphony Orchestra (YUSO), directed by Professor Mark Chambers, and of the Overseas Chinese Music Society Philharmonic Orchestra. He won the first annual York University Concerto Competition in 2006 and the Guelph Symphony Orchestra (GSO) concerto competition the following year, and has appeared as soloist with YUSO, GSO and the Overseas Chinese Youth Symphony Orchestra.
In 2007, he was appointed principal clarinet, solo e-flat clarinet and solo bass clarinet of the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra, having served as co-principal clarinet, solo bass clarinet and solo saxophone the previous season. He made his Toronto Symphony Orchestra debut under the baton of Peter Oundjian at Roy Thomson Hall last November. He also appears regularly as a chamber musician with the Li De Lun Music Foundation and as guest soloist with Opera in Concert in Toronto.
Growing up in Beijing, Liu started playing at a very young age and made his solo recital debut at Beijing’s prestigious 21st Century Theatre when he was 14. He credits his grandmother, Chen Wen, a renowned pianist and artistic director of Beijing’s Central Opera House, for his love of music.
While the clarinet is his instrument of choice, Liu is also a gifted pianist and classical singer. He advanced his studies in both areas in York’s Music Department, where his teachers have included pianists Alma Petchersky and Christina Petrowska Quilico, mezzo soprano Catherine Robbin and tenor Benjamin Butterfield.
"I’ll never be the next Lang Lang, but I still enjoy studying, playing and teaching piano," Liu said. "And I don’t have the voice to become the next Pavarotti, but I love bel canto and I get a lot of personal enjoyment out of singing."
Above: Colin Liu playing clarinet with the York University Symphony Orchestra in 2007
For Liu, combining multiple interests in music and sport has been a way of life. "Mix years of hockey goal tending and all the injuries associated with competitive sport with a rich family history of three generations of medical doctors, and you get a serious fascination with sport medicine," he said.
This well-rounded student saved the day last season by joining the York Lions men’s hockey team when their first string goaltender couldn’t finish the season.
With all this, Liu continues to expand his activities. Applying his computer skills to his love of music, he has launched his own production facility, Polar Bear Music Studios. It boasts 32-track analog tracking with boutique microphones, powerful computers for high resolution recording and editing, outboard gear for creative mixing and monitoring systems for mastering. "I love spending time behind the glass and I hope to do more sound engineering in future when I have more spare time."
As for the future, Liu is keeping his options open. He has applied to numerous schools for advanced studies in music, medicine and physical therapy and then he’ll decide where his passion takes him.