Before every musical performance—and there’ve been many in 17-year-old Andrea Liu’s decade-long violin career—she prepares with a ritual: eating a banana and a piece of chocolate. “I heard somewhere that bananas keep the nerves away,” she says.
Nerves are understandable for this Cherry Creek High School senior. Over the summer, while attending Boston University’s prestigious Tanglewood Institute, she was selected as a Moscow Ballet “Musical Wunderkind,” an honor that grants Liu the opportunity to perform a solo opening act for the Great Russian Nutcracker when it stops in Denver on December 14 during its world tour.
Thus, before a packed holiday audience at the Paramount Theatre, Liu will play one of the most influential ballet accompaniments of the 20th century, “Dying Swan,” while the Moscow Ballet’s prima ballerina dances.
During the week leading up to their first joint rehearsal in October, Liu practiced the three-minute song for an hour each day. As the performance draws nearer, “I do a lot of visualization of the ballerina dancing and how I want to compliment her,” she says. “I had to listen to lots of recordings of other people playing it to see what kind of interpretation I wanted.”
When she was younger, Liu herself used to do ballet. “I quit because I just liked violin more,” she says, “but I still love dance. It’s really exciting to go back to my past and to be able to play together with a ballerina.”
Experienced at a Young Age
While a performance of this magnitude may be new for Liu, the pressure to perform is something familiar. She’s been playing the violin since she was six and performing in the Denver Young Artists Orchestra since she was 10. In that time, she’s served as the orchestra’s concertmaster and principal second, and studied under a member of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra—all together making Liu’s rise to “Wunderkind” not so much a surprise, but a due honor. Still, she says, she’s hit with the occasional stage fright and pre-performance nerves. But that’s where the banana and chocolate come in.
Though violin remains her favorite hobby, she also enjoys skiing and hiking, and takes her academics seriously. As a member of the National Honor Society, she tutors fellow students in math and Chinese, and on the weekends, she volunteers at both the Children’s Hospital Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and Denver’s Swedish Medical Center.
A Schedule for Success
How does she do it all? She keeps a tight schedule, plus lots of practice.
At 5:30 a.m., Liu wakes up for an hour-long practice session on her violin. Then she goes to school, and when she gets home after 3:30 p.m., she tackles homework for a few hours. She’ll usually take a break and eat dinner, but then she goes back to the violin and practices some more, usually another 90 minutes, but sometimes up to two more hours, depending on her upcoming performances. “Then I do more homework,” she says, and tries to get to sleep by 11 p.m. On weekends she practices with the orchestra and volunteers at the hospitals.
None of this feels like a burden to Liu, and now she’s preparing for auditions to college as a music major. But, she’s also interested in applying as a pre-medical student. “So, as of right now, I’m not sure what my career will look like,” she says with a laugh.
“It’s all about the journey you want to take, and not the actual results,” she adds, which is great advice for aspiring musicians, but perhaps even more so for teenagers as they start making decisions of more and more consequence. “The journey is how you learn things, rather than by playing a piece perfectly,” she says. “This performance is going to be one that I remember forever.”
Andrea’s Winter Playlist
- “Sleigh Ride” by Leroy Anderson
- “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby
- “Gymnopedie” by Erik Satie (orchestrated by Claude Debussy)