Anita Levy sits down with pianist Avan Yu for a Q&A.
Avan Yu is the winner of the 2012 Sydney International Piano Competition, and is back in Australia for a series of concert appearances. I spent some time with him after his most successful visit to Geelong in Victoria.
Avan, you have just spent almost a week in Geelong, performing concerts, recitals and masterclasses. Can you tell our readers what you were trying to achieve there, in particular with your children’s concerts?
Nowadays classical music is not something you’d come across in mainstream media, so for a lot of children, unless they deliberately search for it, they are not going to be exposed to classical music. I am not rich enough to buy a TV station and play classical music programs on it all day, so what I can do at least, is to offer the opportunity to perform for children whenever there’s a chance. Not everyone has to love classical music. But I think people, especially children, should be introduced to this wonderful music because, if you haven’t tried something, how will you know that you won’t like it?
You knew you would have that opportunity to visit schools in Geelong. So how did these concerts eventuate?
I performed in Geelong eighteen months ago as part of the initial winner’s tour following the Sydney International Piano Competition. Since the concert took place at the GeelongSacredHeartCollege, I got the idea that on my return visit, I could do a mini-residency – with kids’ concerts, masterclasses, and a formal recital. The wonderful organisers at the school welcomed the idea and made it happen this time. Even they were surprised at the enthusiastic response from the schools. Every school wanted to be part of this and in fact, we had to add a third concert to the schedule due to the response!
You have received enthusiastic reviews and comments from the people of Geelong. Can you describe a little about the concerts?
Well, we have to be more creative when it comes to programming for children. Children want variety and they want to be entertained. So, we got one of the teachers to dress up as a bee and act as a “moderator” for the show. The opening act was the Flight of the Bumblebee. We had a cartoonish video made of a bumblebee to go along with the music. They loved it! There was a Q&A segment – the kids had so many questions! The questions ranged from the usual “when did you start playing the piano?”, to deeper questions like “what makes the piano so unique as an instrument? How do you deal with nervousness?” and to “can you name all five members of One Direction?” (I couldn’t.)
Perhaps the highlight of the show was the Compose a Melody segment. I invited students to come to the stage where we had set up a white board and write music notes onto a staff. The only real teaching I had given was to introduce to them the examples of crotchets, quavers, minims, and so on. But I left the choice of which note to write and its value entirely up to them. As a result, we got something that was quite atonal. But you see, children are not prejudiced when it comes to music. They loved the “melody” that we composed and there was quite a buzz in the room when I premiered our composition. Then I added another dimension – I asked them to give me examples of moods in which I then improvised. The result was quite hilarious at times and I think what we were able to demonstrate was that music can come in many forms and can express different emotions and that there are no boundaries of creativity.
You also took part in their lunchtime concerts, didn’t you?
I made a cameo appearance at their regular lunchtime concerts, where the girls could perform for their classmates. And it could be anything – poetry, dance, or music. We had fun.
And what are your plans for the next month or so?
I’m at about mid-point in my seven-week tour of Australia. I am in Melbourne right now, Adelaide on Friday, and on Sunday back to Sydney with the Sydney Youth Orchestra. From there, I will go to Bathurst, Orange, Penrith, Tamworth, Taree, Maroochydore, Caloundra, Brisbane and Rockhampton.
After Australia, I will go to Hong Kong, and Vancouver to spend some time visiting my family. Life of a concert pianist is never boring!
Follow Avan on his travels on his Facebook page: facebook.com/avanyu