You have had a very big year of studying and performing – what would you say were some of the musical highlights of 2016?
My musical highlights of 2016 had been performing large amounts of repertoire and playing in very insightful master classes and making international contacts. In September, I performed and worked with world-renowned teachers, Pavel Gililov and Arie Vardi at the International Mendelssohn Akademie in Leipzig, Germany. I made contact with some fantastic young pianists all over the world. A week after returning from Leipzig, I performed the magnificient Brahms Piano Concerto no. 2 with the Sydney Conservatorium Orchestra with Eduardo Diazmunoz with a full house. Earlier in July, I performed both the Schumann and Franck Piano Quintets with colleagues from the Sydney Conservatorium at the European Chamber Music Summer School in Verona, Italy. There I worked with Alexey Sokolov and Christian Mueller on solo piano and chamber music repertoires. 3 days after returning from Italy, at short notice I performed Franck’s Violin Sonata with Yejin Min at a lunchtime concert. 2 days before the Italy trip, I was participating in the Keri-Keri International Competition, in New Zealand, where I reached the semi-finals. I met the jurors played in a competition masterclass with Eleanor Wong. Earlier in the year, I was chosen to play in a masterclass with Stephen Hough as part of Musica Viva.
What would you say has been your biggest lesson to have learned this year?
Through having a big year of musical activities of performing so many repertoires and travelling, time management and planning is one of my biggest lesson I learned this year. It was my first time performing the Brahms 2nd Piano concerto with an orchestra, and throughout the year before September I had to prepare and perform large amounts of solo pianos and chamber music. Therefore it was necessary to carefully plan out my practice times everyday so that I am not hurting and tiring myself and plan out what pieces to practice even weeks and months in advance.
Have you had any major challenges musically this year?
Yes of course there are always many musical challenges in playing and performing. However two composers whom I get worried about performing are Bach and Mozart. It is ironic that although I have grown up playing works by both composers, the more musically matured I become through the years, the more difficult and challenging I find their works to be. Bach’s genius in contrapuntal writing is not only very technically uncomfortable to play but every note counts and requires careful thinking. The latter issue is the same in Mozart and becomes even more difficult because Mozart writes so few notes on the page in comparison to Beethoven, Chopin etc. Performing Bach and Mozart is also an issue, because one simply cannot please everybody. Every pianist have a different idea of how Bach and Mozart should sound and be played. I played the Mozart Sonata K330 in C in the Keri-Keri International Competition, which two of the three adjudicators did not like it and thought it lacked detail work, however the remaining one really liked it and thought all the details were there! (Luckily enough the one who really like it was Austrian)
What was the best concert you attended this year?
Unfortunately I had not been a frequent concert-goer this year, however of all the concerts I went to in Sydney this year, I enjoyed very much the Messiaen “Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jesus” played by Pierre-Laurent Aimard. It was the first time I listened to the complete Vingt Regards straight through and it created a tremendous atmosphere in the hall by the very end of it.
Do you have a break from practise over Christmas and New Year or do you keep powering through?
I do take a break from practice over the Christmas and the New year. I think it is a necessity for musicians to take a break so that new ideas emerge and a feeling of motivation returns. However there are 2 types of breaks for me, one is the non-practice but a continuation of exploration. In this break I don’t practice or polish any repertoire but I simply play through large amounts of works. They include works that I learnt before, works I would like to play in future, works I haven’t played before and works I haven’t heard of. The other type of break for me is where I completely do not touch the piano at all. However I don’t like this type of break very much because I usually cannot let a day go by without playing the piano. Therefore this break only happens when I am on vacation. This break happened when I travelled to Austria with a group of friends after going to Italy for the summer school. I did not play the piano for 8 days but when I got back home, I felt like a different pianist.
What are your major piano works for next year?
My major piano works for next year include, Chopin Sonata no. 3 Op. 58, Szymanowski Metopes Op. 29, Schoenberg Suite Op. 25, Chopin Piano Concerto no. 1, Liszt Reminiscences de Norma, a few sonatas by Beethoven and other smaller works by composers such as Granados, Chaminade, Chopin, Debussy, Rachmaninov etc.
For those works, do you have particular recordings that you prefer?
Unlike many, I do not have particular recordings of certain works that I prefer. I simply try to enjoy every recording of any work and therefore it is very difficult to say which particular recording of a certain work I prefer. However many recordings of Emil Gilels and Artur Rubinstein have stood out to me a little more than others and have been influential to my playing – particularly Gilels’ rendition of Brahms 2nd Piano Concerto with Eugen Jochum and any Chopin played by Rubinstein. Of course there many other pianists I adore as well.
What concert(s) are you most looking forward to attending next year?
There are lots of great concerts coming up in 2017, which I am looking forward to! Of course I will be watching Martha Argerich’s Beethoven Concerto and Piers Lane’s Rach 3 with my friends! I am also looking forward to watching Danill Trifonov’s Rach 1 and his recital, because I performed Rach 1 in the final round of Lev Vlassenko Competition 2015 and will be interested to see his interpretation of it. His recital includes the Stravinsky Petrushka, which I also performed many times and will be fascinated to see how he dances. Other than piano, I am very excited to see Janine Jansen perform Sibelius Violin Concerto. I last saw her perform the Brahms Violin Concerto, which was astounding. I am also an opera lover, so I am very looking forward to hear Jonas Kaufmann singing Wagner’s Parsifal as a concert version. I last heard Kaufmann’s debut recital and was blown away how good his voice sounded live. Not only that but he maintains true musicianship when he sings, which make him stand out from other singers.
What advice would you give to those (now graduated) year 12 students that are looking to embark on a music degree in 2017?
My advice would be to follow your intentions and goals, and never give up. If one cannot let a day pass without music, if one feels devoted to music making and performing, then there is no reason for one to not embark on a music degree or music performance degree. Do not let marks and results and other people’s comments and remarks about your playing influence the way you feel about music and who you are. On the other hand do not try to compare yourself with others, just focus on your own and compete with yourself. Always make the next year more enriching than the last. Lastly make more friends as you can with other people playing other instruments and people in different years.
Alexander Yau – Biography
Alexander Yau is an active solo pianists and chamber musician, who has given solo concerts and chamber music performances around Australia, as well as Italy, Germany, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Shanghai and appeared as soloist with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, SBS Youth Orchestra and the Kuring-Gai Philharmonic Orchestra. This year he performed Brahms Piano Concerto no. 2 under Eduardo Diazmunoz and Sydney Conservatorium Symphony Orchestra in a sold out gala concert. He was the winner of the Emerging Artist Series and the Theme & Variations Foundation Award, was twice a finalist in the John Allison/Henderson Scholarship. Last year he was the 3rd Prize winner and multiple prize winner at the 2015 Lev Vlassenko Piano Competition and winner of the Sydney Conservatorium Concerto Competition. He has made several recordings and broadcasts with the 2MBS fm and a CD recording with the ABC classic Fm collaborating with clarinetist Deborah de Graaff, including his own compositions. Recently he has played in masterclasses with Stephen Hough, Eleanor Wong, Gabriel Kwok and Stephen Savage and also worked with Pavel Gililov and Arie Vardi at the International Mendelssohn-Academy in Leipzig this year.
Born in Sydney in 1995, Alexander began piano lessons at the age of 6, and studied with Elizabeth Powell at the age of 11. He is in his 3rd year of his Bachelor of Music Performance degree at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music studying with Daniel Herscovitch, holding both the William Kapell Memorial Scholarship and Seetha Aryanganie Nugawela Scholarship Prize for ‘Outstanding Piano Student’.