One of the country’s most celebrated young classical piano phenoms has missed his share of high school events and gatherings with his peers in his hometown of Fremont, California. And he has been absent from more than a few parties.

But, when you are Elliot Wuu, such is your life of sacrifice. At age 17, he already has played at festivals and major venues all over the world, including his favorite country of Italy twice.

“I often have to decline (parties) because I am playing, practicing or traveling,” said Wuu, speaking by phone from his home. “That is sometimes, tough, but it is definitely rewarding.”

His journey of discipline and focus just bore more fruit the day before this latest interview. He just decided to attend the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City.

Story continues below gallery

“I’m kind of speechless about it, really,” he said.

Wuu is big on saying he lets his music speak to people, anyway. He plans on precisely that happening Saturday with the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic when he performs the entire Camille Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No. 2 for the first time in concert. He has publicly performed the piece’s first movement with ensembles such as the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra.

He mentioned that he’s looking forward to working with Philharmonic Music Director David Bowden, a maestro who long has championed developing fresh, orchestral talent and then seeing them expand their presence and profile. Wuu’s reputation continues to grow.

A reviewer at the Young Artist Showcase in Italy gushed that Wuu’s “crystalline technique and polished finesse may have left his older colleagues feeling the urge to hit the practice room hard the next day.”

“It’s been a busy last four years for me, I guess,” Wuu said. “I’ve just been trying to keep a balanced life.

“I often find that I’m doing my homework on a plane.”

Most recently, he won the 2017 National Young-Arts Competition.

Plus, he’s already taking pre-college courses on Saturdays at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He is advanced enough at Valley Christian High School Conservatory of the Arts in San Jose, California, that he finishes his academic day at noon so he can devote much of the rest of his time to practicing four to five hours on weekdays.

He found extra inspiration in 2013 after meeting and performing in Germany with world-renowned pianist Lang Lang, still an occasional music partner.

“That really has sparked an interest in sharing my music with others,” Wuu said. “It’s one of my deepest passions.”

Away from his studies and rehearsals, he watches the TV show “The Voice” to study other performers.

“There’s so much to learn even from their stage presence,” he said.

He chuckled about being a normal teenager on social media such as Facebook and Instagram. Yet, despite his youth, as part of an arts outreach class in San Jose, he has been teaching piano to underprivileged elementary school youth, “giving them that head start,” he said.

Wuu himself had a bit of that with strong teachers when he began lessons at age 6. And where might his path lead in the future after Juilliard? For now, he can be sure only of one thing.

“I set my expectations pretty high,” he said.

A key(board) performer

Who: Pianist Elliot Wuu performing with the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic.

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Judson Erne Auditorium, 1400 25th St. in Columbus.

Musically speaking: Columbus Indiana Philharmonic Music Director David Bowden will chat with guest artist Wuu at 6:45 p.m. Open to all ticket holders.

Tickets: From $5 to $45.

Information: 812-376-2638 or thecip.org.

Author photo
Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.