American pianist Frederic Chiu was born to a Chinese immigrant family. Critics count his diverse background as one of his strengths, permitting him a wider point of view in studying the music he plays. On the other hand, his concert repertory is as centered on the classical European piano literature as that of any comparable player. Another part of his background gives him unusual insight into collaboration: his brother is a violinist, and as the pair was growing up Frederic often accompanied him.
He attended Indiana University, where he pursued a double major in piano performance and computer science. His piano teacher at Indiana was Karen Shaw, a pianist known for her powerful virtuosic interpretations. While attending Indiana he frequently participated in the violin class of the late teacher Josef Gingold as a class accompanist. One of his acquaintances from those years was one of Gingold's greatest pupils, Joshua Bell. Chiu frequently accompanies Bell and also with Pierre Amoyal. (The fact that Bell and Chiu are contracted with different record companies impedes the possibility of these two leading American instrumentalists collaborating on disc.)
After Indiana, he studied at the Juilliard School with Abbey Simon, Shaw's teacher. At that point he decided to base his performing career in Paris. Having settled in France, he co-founded (with violinist Philippe Graffin) the 1991 Consonance Festival in Saint Nazaire and participates regularly in it, often collaborating with Jeremy Menuhin, the St. Lawrence Quartet, Christian Ivaldi, Gary Hoffman, or Jean-Yves Thibaudet.
In 1993, already considered one of the quickest-rising young pianists, he entered the Van Cliburn competition. His elimination before the final round resulted in a storm of protest, reminiscent of the 1980 scandal involving Ivo Pogorelich in the Chopin Competition. He received more publicity as a result than did the winner; The New York Times began referring to him as a "maverick pianist." Since then, he has received more positive recognition as the recipient of the Petscheck Award, the American Pianists Association Fellowship, and the 1996 Avery Fisher Career Grant. He has toured extensively in the United States and Europe, appearing with the major orchestras and in solo recitals in the major venues.
He records for the French Harmonia Mundi label, where he has completed several volumes of a critically acclaimed project to record all the piano music of Sergey Prokofiev, including the unpublished juvenilia and Chiu's own transcription of the suite from the film Lt. Kizhe. He is drawn to little-performed Romantic repertory, including the Mendelssohn piano sonatas and the great virtuoso piano transcriptions of the era, especially those of Franz Liszt. He has given lecture-concerts on Liszt's piano version of the Schubert song cycle Schwanengesang, which he had recorded for Harmonia Mundi. He has also recorded transcriptions of music by Rossini and, more conventionally, Ravel's piano music and Chopin's Opus 10 etudes.