Periodontist wins world piano competition in memory of mom

A former Saskatoon resident recently clinched the top prize at the Seventh Cliburn International Amateur Piano Competition.

Thomas Yu is a dentist by day, but he's also a renowned amateur pianist

Thomas Yu keeps a full-time job as a periodontist while travelling the continents to perform as an amateur pianist. (Ralph Laurer)

A former Saskatchewan resident has clinched the top prize at the Seventh Cliburn International Amateur Piano Competition. 

Thomas Yu won the competition, and he did so for his mother who recently died. 

At the end of each performance, Yu stood and bowed while placing his hand over his heart. Yu said it became a popular pose with the press gallery, but it was a gesture purely for his mother.

"In her final days, I said to her that I would enter this competition," he said. "And I would win it for her." 

Yu said his mother never pushed him into competitions, nor did she expect him to be so successful, but she was always supportive.

"I couldn't be more satisfied with making her proud one more time." 

He planned his song choices for the competition based on songs she liked or ones that had a connection to her. For Yu, every single note was for her. 

"She meant everything in this competition in terms of my drive and why I wanted to do it and represent her above all else." 

When his mother first fell ill, the pianist lost the desire to play and put his passion on pause for almost a year. Then he realized how important it was to him and what it meant to his mother. 

This year was the first Yu was eligible to compete because of age restrictions, and he knew his mother wouldn't be here to see him play.  

Practice makes perfect

When he made the decision to commit to the competition, he practiced nearly every day with one goal in mind. He wanted to win. 

The amateur pianist was certain that he would be hard to catch if he worked as hard as everyone else. 

"That was the confident mantra that I had," he explained. 

After a series of performances, he won the competition after playing Saint Saëns Concerto No. 5 for his final performance. 
Thomas Yu became known for for placing his hand over his chest and bowing at the end of each performance. He was remembering his late mother in those moments. ( dfwdotcom/Twitter)

The first piece he played in the competition was composed by Regina's own David McIntyre.  It was called Butterflies and Bobcats.

The international competition only happens once every five years, and the winner is deemed the best amateur in the world. 

The minimum age allowed to enter is 35-years-old and amateurs in the competition are classified as non-professional pianists who make a living with another job. 

Yu is a periodontist in Calgary, and he got his Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry from the University of Saskatchewan. 

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatchewan Weekend