Three Australian pianists have been selected in the field of 32 competitors announced for the prestigious Sydney International Piano Competition of Australia (SIPCA), which will see the finest young pianists from around the globe travel to Sydney (6-23 July) to participate in the exhilarating competition.
Ayesha Gough from Brisbane, Daniel Le from Melbourne, and Hong Kong-born Australian Jeremy So from Sydney, have won through the first stage to join other competitors hailing from as far afield as Kazakhstan, Italy and Russia to China, USA and Japan for the acclaimed competition.
The internationally renowned contest, considered one of the world’s great piano competitions, takes place every four years and has experienced record growth in 2016 with 283 nominees – nearly doubling the previous field of applicants in 2012 – which sets the bar incredibly high for the pre-selections.
“What I am probably most proud of is being one of only three Australians selected for this year’s competition. During my preparation I have been keeping in mind the fact I am representing Australia. It makes me feel as though the competition is less about me and more about my representation of Australian pianism as a high-class and dynamic style,” Ayesha Gough tells Fine Music magazine.
“I love performing. On stage, the music has more room to breathe, and the uncertainty in not knowing if something will go wrong in the next bar gives an edge to the whole experience” she says.
“So in this respect, the love of performing is probably what helps me manage pressure the most. In the lead up to each round, I will undoubtedly jump between feelings of self-doubt, confidence, uncertainty and perseverance. Yet once I am on the stage, thoughts of the competition are pushed aside.”
The two concertos that Gough has prepared for the finals are generally new to her, which she describes as both helpful and disconcerting.
“My teacher suggested I take Beethoven’s first as my classical concerto, and I can see why this is a good choice for me. It is such a lively piece, full of exuberance and cheekiness; emotions that I tend to enjoy portraying.
“That I would learn Prokofiev’s third concerto was an eventuality; it is such a famous piece and belongs in most pianists’ repertoire,” said Gough.
While she admits that the prizes on offer to the winner would be “incredible”, Gough says: “When I read this question, my first thought was that any success in this competition would be a recognition of the years of dedication and time gifted to me by my teacher and those who have supported me since I began my first little recital series in the NSW town of Murwillumbah”. Success in the SIPCA would also strengthen the young pianist’s support of Variety, The Children’s Charity, who named her as an International Ambassador in 2015 after supporting her piano studies for several years.
Daniel Le feels a special connection to the SIPCA as he grew up watching competitors battle it out. “It’s definitely a privilege and honour to be part of SIPCA, as an Australian. I’m really excited to be able to share music with the audiences in Sydney, and around the world”.
“There is no doubt that there is a lot of stress involved at times, but it is a really rewarding experience to share music with people,” said Le.
“It’s easy to let the competition aspect of things get in the way of music sometimes. It’s not uncommon that a competitor might be more concerned with certain aspects of a ‘clean’ or ‘note perfect’ performance rather than what they really want to express in the music, or even better yet, how the music is wanting to be expressed.”
“The pressure is not about winning a race or anything like that, but really it’s about making music in that moment, and connecting with your audience. They deserve that from us,” said Le.
In terms of preparation Le says: “Of course, one has to sit for hours at the piano every day and practice like crazy, but I find that it’s really not practice that makes perfect, it’s really about practicing perfectly. A lot of preparation in competition is just getting to know yourself and your tendencies, and trying to prepare for a big event.
“I’ve chosen music that I feel very strongly about, in the sense that when I first listened to it or heard it, I had an immediate connection with that music.”
For Jeremy So, this iteration of the SIPCA holds significance: “At the age of 10 I was given a CD of solo highlights from the fifth competition, and I’ve wanted to take part ever since.
“To have made it this far is, without exaggeration, the realisation of one of my childhood dreams. I recall the wise words of a piano tutor at the Sydney Conservatorium “that one prepares for these sorts of competitions years ahead”.
He tells Fine Music magazine that he shares the sentiments of the other Australian finalists that the most important aspect of performance is communication. He describes it thus: “To act as a body of water, accurately reflecting the composition to the audience, but also imperfectly so that something can be seen of the water itself in the form of interpretation.
“When I manage to keep this priority in mind during a performance then I’ll enjoy the moment, especially if I’m playing chamber music as there’s another layer of communication and interaction present.”
So says the opportunity of working with Valery Gergiev would be “a clear sign that my career was taking big steps in the right direction”.
“While I’ll always call Sydney home, these past three years of studying abroad have left me wanting to spend a bit more time in Europe, so the performances offered to the top prize winners are particularly enticing.”
What does it feel like to be included in this field of 32 pianists?
“I don’t feel as if it is proof of my possessing any great musical ability. To me it means that in this case a few (highly regarded) musicians see potential in my playing and could connect with it in some way.
“Now that this opportunity has been extended to me, I feel a sense of responsibility to offer the best that I can to my audience, so in that sense I will play with confidence. Because this competition is something I’ve always wanted to do, whatever the outcome is for me, this milestone experience will have given me a new inspiration to move on to my next musical project,” said So.