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So far Anita Levy has created 5 blog entries.

Jeremy Sun – a young pianist lifting off

The Theme and Variations Foundation is dedicated not only to discovering and supporting exceptional young Australian pianists, but to keeping track of how they apply their financial assistance.

We asked our 2021 winner, Jeremy Sun, some searching questions about his plans and the life elements that influence his playing.

Jeremy Sun

Jeremy Sun

How do you intend to apply your award?

I am extremely grateful to the Theme and Variations Foundation for the financial aid and I will use it to attend music festivals, summer courses and masterclasses as I think they will greatly benefit me and help me understand more about music.

What influenced your decision to pursue a career as a pianist?

I think it just sort of happened. I have always loved listening to music since before I started learning the piano and as I played in more competitions and performances, I knew that this was thing I love doing and want to keep doing.

Where are you at right now with your musical studies and where you will you be headed next?

I will be starting at the UQ Music School this year studying with Dr Anna Grinberg. I am not sure as to where I will be after my bachelors, but I think I want to go to the US or Europe for further studies.

Based on your current studies with Professor Béroff, how do you rate lessons through internet connections such as zoom?

I am currently studying with Dr Anna Grinberg and occasionally have online lessons with Professor Béroff. I think online lessons definitely aren’t ideal but I still learn a lot from Professor Béroff, especially on French repertoire like Debussy and Ravel’s works.

What other parts of your education are important to you and have they been beneficial to your music?

Learning music theory and harmony intensively in the past few years has really helped me in the practical part of music playing. I feel like it has opened up my ears a lot more and I can now hear my playing much more than I used to be able to.

What would be your typical practice routine in a day? Do you have an exercise routine to maintain your technique?

My practice routine is not really set (which is probably not a good thing) but I try to get a couple of hours each in the morning, afternoon and evening. I normally start with a couple of Chopin etudes or scales to wake my fingers up and get them moving or sometimes I just go straight into a technically difficult passage in a piece to warm the fingers up and practise the difficult section at the same time, which I think saves time for me.

How do you go about memorising a piece?

I normally memorise a piece by looking for patterns within the piece or by remembering the chord progressions in a certain section. This normally makes the learning process much easier for me.

How important is sight-reading?  How to you rate yourself?

I think sight-reading is quite important in music making as quite often, you are given a very short time to prepare a piece to either perform or accompany. I still rate myself pretty poorly on that aspect, but I am continuing to practise on this skill by sight-reading and accompanying regularly!

Do you prefer to play solo, with an orchestra, in an ensemble, or accompanying?

I like doing all of these! They all have something different for me to enjoy. For example, by accompanying, and playing in ensembles, I get to discover so many wonderful pieces from composers I haven’t really heard of.

Do you get nervous before you play and, if so, what do you do to overcome it?

My mum thinks I don’t get nervous but maybe that’s her memory of the younger Jeremy Sun which I don’t remember a thing about. I try to overcome my nervousness by thinking about the piece and by pressing the play button in my head. Sometimes it doesn’t work though, so I just embrace the nervous feelings and leave it to chance.

How does playing in a competition differ from playing a recital?

I haven’t played in many recitals before, but I think the main difference is that you have more freedom in your playing and don’t need to worry about what the judges would think of your slightly unconventional interpretations.

Is there a competition you would love to enter? Are there composers and works to include and those to avoid in competitions?

I would love to participate in the Sydney International, but I think that’ll have to wait until 2025 when I am old enough. I would also like to try for the big competitions in the future: Leeds, Van Cliburn, Chopin.

Who are your favourite composers and pieces?

I think at one point, most composers are going to be my favourite as my likes and dislikes constantly change and move around. Right now, I love listening to Bach, Ravel (probably Professor Béroff’s inspiration), Chopin and Schumann. There are too many pieces from too many incredible composers to choose from so I’m not sure if I am capable of having a list of favourite pieces unfortunately.

Which international pianists do you admire and why?

I love listening to Sviatoslav Richter because his music is so powerful and direct. I also love listening to Pascal Rogé’s French music; his interpretations are always so touching and addictive to listen to. Oh, and I was also hooked onto Kyohei Sorita’s playing in the Chopin Competition last year as his tone is just so beautiful and relaxing to listen to. His second-round pieces were my sleep playlist for a couple of months.

If you could have a ticket to a piano recital by one pianist, alive or dead, who would it be?

I would probably want to go to a recital by Horowitz because he’s probably just the best there will ever be.

What do you do to relax?

I enjoy hanging out with my friends to relax by watching a movie, playing sports, and doing various other things.

Jeremy Sun – a young pianist lifting off2022-01-21T02:10:42+00:00

Journey to the concert stage

An interview with our 2020 award winners

Joy Chen and Jake Cheong

The Foundation’s two award recipients for 2021 are Joy Chen and Jake Cheong. Even though they will be entering a highly competitive and stressful world, both intend to become concert pianists.

Apart from playing the piano exceptionally well, how do they equip themselves to handle the demands of one of the toughest of all careers? We asked each of them some questions to find out.

Joy Chen

Jake Cheong

The Theme and Variations Foundation likes to keep track of how its financial assistance will help its award winners. How do you intend to apply yours?

Joy: I am planning to use the Theme & Variations Foundation Award for international competitions and masterclasses overseas in the future.

Jake: I intend to apply the Theme and Variations Foundation Award towards international events such as competitions, masterclasses, and overseas performance opportunities.

What influenced your decision to pursue a career as a pianist?

Joy: I have always enjoyed spending time on the piano since a young age. Throughout the years, I find playing piano becomes one of my daily routine, and I gained more interest in discovering and playing music in different styles.

Jake: Since I was young, I have enjoyed playing the piano and performing in front of an audience. I continuously played the piano through the years and instead of being bored from it, I gained more passion and knew this was what I wanted to do.

Where are you at right now with your musical studies and where you will you be headed next?

Joy: I have just finished my second year at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, and is about to start my third year. In the coming years, I wish to attend more masterclasses overseas, and hopefully can continue my Master degree overseas or at the con.

Jake: I will be starting my third year of studying Bachelor of Music (Performance) at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. I was planning to participate in international events but with the current Covid-19 situation, I will have to push those plans till later. I intend to use the time now to further develop my musical skills and techniques.

What qualities do you look for in a teacher?

Joy: I look for someone that is supportive, and challenges me in  my learning progress. Also someone can inspire me musically, guide me to develop a deeper understanding of each musical work, and portraying the style accurately, while giving me enough freedom to present my own interpretation.

Jake: I look for a teacher who challenges and leads their students out of their comfort zone for further growth in their musical studies. A teacher who directs the students towards the appropriate style while giving them freedom to apply their musical interpretation to grow their unique musical voice.

What other parts of your education are important to you and have they been beneficial to your music?

Joy: I have discovered the importance of knowing the history and context behind the musical works, as it helps me to present the style and characteristics more accurately. 

Jake: I found the theory subjects like harmony and aural beneficial towards my musical studies. Studying harmony allowed me to improve on analysing the harmonic progressions in my pieces which also improved my memory of the works. Studying Aural has improved my listening skills in identifying various colours and tones.

What would be your typical practice routine in a day? Do you have an exercise routine to maintain your technique?

Joy: I don’t have a set routine for my daily practice, but I try to run through the technical parts in each of my piece every day. 

Jake: I don’t have a set practice routine, but I practise scales and arpeggios to keep my fingers moving and warmed up. The exercise routine depends on the pieces I’ll be practicing that day. If a piece has lots of repeated notes passages, I will start by doing repeated notes exercises. 

How do you go about memorising a piece?

Joy: I am not particularly good with memorising music. Usually I do muscle memory and visual memory first, then analyse the spots that I have problem with, in order to get a deeper understanding of the piece, which helps to secure my memory.

Jake: I personally don’t have a set plan to memorising a piece as it comes naturally over time and continuous playing. I found that memorising the melody and harmonic progressions can accelerate the progress of memorising a piece.

How important is sight-reading?  How to you rate yourself?

Joy: I think sight-reading is an essential skill for pianists, as it can fastens the learning progress, which helps the pianist to build up their program. I don’t think sight-reading is my strongest point, I am still trying to improve in daily practices.

Jake: I believe sight-reading plays a big role in the progress of my musical studies. A fast sight-reader has the advantage of learning the pieces quickly and further enhancing their technique. My sight-reading skills can be much better, but it is enough to get myself to learn a piece in a short period of time.

Do you prefer to play solo, with an orchestra, in an ensemble, or accompanying?

Joy: I enjoy playing in all forms, as they have their own characteristics. At the moment, I have not played with orchestra yet, I am still working to achieve that.

Jake: I have spent most of my time playing solo with some accompanying. I haven’t had much experience in an ensemble and would like to gain more experience during my studies at the Conservatorium. I hope to get an opportunity to perform with an orchestra someday! 

Do you get nervous before you play and, if so, what do you do to overcome it?

Joy: Yes, I get nervous before my performance almost every single time. I always flip through my scores before my performance to refresh my visual memory, which also help me to focus more on my music.

Jake: Like most other performers, I do get very nervous before I play. I feel the most performance anxiety when waiting to go out to perform. However, once I am up on the stage I start to calm down and relax. I have noticed the more confident I am, the less nervous I get so I aim to get my pieces ready to the point I feel confident and can play comfortably. 

How does playing in a competition differ from playing a recital?

Joy: For me personally, there’s not much difference in playing in competitions and recitals, as I get nervous in both situations.

Jake: I like to believe that there is no difference between playing in a competition and a recital. They are both the same performance with the purpose of moving the audience through music.

Is there a competition you would love to enter? Are there composers and works to include and those to avoid in competitions?

Joy: There are a lot of competitions that I would love to try out, it is hard to choose a specific one as every competition is a good experience. Hopefully in the future, I will be able to participate in some bigger international competitions. I don’t think there’s a specific work that I have to avoid in competitions, but I always try to consider both ‘popular’ pieces and less known pieces in my program to create more variety.

Jake: I think any international competition is a great way to build experience and motivate myself. I believe any work chosen by the performer is suitable for any competitions. Competitions are just another performance with the purpose of communicating with the audience through music and this is possible with any choice of repertoire. 

Who are your favourite composers and pieces?

Joy: There are a lot of composers and pieces that I enjoy playing. I have to say Rachmaninoff is one of my favourite, especially his Sonata No.2. Recently, I rediscovered my interest in playing Mozart’s work, as the elegant characteristics sounds very refreshing after all the intense pieces in my program.

Jake: My favourite composer for piano solo pieces is Liszt. Liszt composed many beautiful melodies while making it technically challenging which makes it exciting to play. Some of my favourite pieces include Ballade no.2, Tarantella and Mazeppa. I also love Rachmaninov’s Piano Concertos no.2 and 3 and wish to play them someday! 

Which international pianists do you admire and why? 

Joy: There are a lot of pianists that I admire, Martha Argerich is one of them. I enjoy listening to her interpretation of works in different styles. Watching her performance is also an enjoyment, not only her technical skills are very impressive, the way she conveys the emotions behind the work strongly attracts the audience.

Jake: I have recently been following the pianist Seong Jin Cho after hearing his performance of Chopin Etude Op.10 No.1 in the International Chopin Piano Competition. I was stunned by his accuracy and clarity in his sound. I have also been following the pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk after hearing his performance of Prokofiev Sonata no. 6. I was very surprised and excited to participate in a masterclass with him!

If you could have a ticket to a piano recital by one pianist, alive or dead, who would it be?

Joy: I would love to watch Rachmaninoff’s recital.

Jake: I would love to watch Liszt or Prokofiev perform their own difficult works to hear their intentions and see how well they can play it!

What do you do to relax?

Joy: Since piano practice requires me to spend a lot of time by myself with full concentration, during my free time, I prefer to hang out with friends and family, also travelling, watching movies or drawing.

Jake: I like to stay active, so I go out to exercise or swim but when I feel lazy, I relax by watching movies and playing video games with friends. I also like to arrange popular songs on the piano in my spare time.

Journey to the concert stage2021-02-17T23:32:08+00:00

Michael Brimer talks about music and its creators

The Board of Theme & Variations foundation invites you and your friends to a stimulating series of four evening discussions for lovers of classical music.

One of Australia’s most distinguished pianists and musicologists, Professor Michael Brimer will give a series of four informal talks in September 2019 about the classical composers recently voted by ABC listeners as the most popular. They are Beethoven, Bach, Mozart and Tchaikovsky.

The talks will be held at the Theme & Variations showroom in Willoughby on the four Wednesday evenings in September. They will be a fundraiser for the Theme & Variations Foundation which assists talented young Australian pianists who need financial help to achieve their goals.

Those of us who have heard Michael speak know him as a wonderful story teller with a vast knowledge of all forms of music. He illustrates his talks with demonstrations at the piano, the instrument that has taken him to the top of performing, especially in Australia. As a pianist, Michael has performed 25 different piano concertos, two organ concertos and countless solo recitals as well as being an outstanding teacher.

Michael’s talks will not be lectures for students sitting for music exams, but rather for lovers of classical music. They will cover the times, compositional styles and sometimes quirky lives of the famous four composers.

These entertaining talks are a must for anybody who wants to increase their understanding, and therefore enjoyment, of classical music and its composers.



Please join us for this series of four talks. Arrive at 6pm for a cup of tea or coffee and a pastry, and we’ll begin at 6.30pm. Please reserve your place by emailing us with your payment details.

Dates: Wednesday 4,11,18 and 25 September 2019

Time: 6.00pm for 6.30 start. Talks close at 7.45 p.m.

Venue: Theme & Variations Showroom 451 Willoughby Road, Willoughby 2068

Bookings:  $125 per person for the full program over four evenings.

1. Make an Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) to our bank account:
Amount:                        $125.00 per ticket
Bank:                               Westpac
Account name:            T&V Foundation Limited
BSB:                                 032 199
Account number:        304 680

Please note: It is essential that you include your full name on the deposit so we can track your payment easily. We will send you a receipt when your payment arrives.

Please email this form to anita@generator.net.au the same day you make your EFT payment: –


Name: ________________________________________________________

Email: _________________________________________________________

Phone: ________________________________________________________

Number of tickets:  ____  @ $125.00 each   :    Total $ _____________


2. Mastercard or Visa card:

Please email your details to anita@generator.net.au or call 0409 300 490 to pay over the phone.


The Theme & Variations Foundation Board would like to thank you sincerely for your support.


Michael Brimer talks about music and its creators2020-03-16T00:02:04+00:00

Annie Ma – 2018 Recipient

In early March of this year, I was extremely fortunate to receive an invitation to perform at the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie, New York as a first prize winner in the Golden Classical Music Awards International Competition. Carnegie Hall is undoubtedly one of the most prestigious concert halls in the world and frequently exclusive to performances by internationally acclaimed musicians, so of course I was overjoyed and humbled to be given this opportunity, as well as being excited to travel to New York City for the first time. 

I had chosen to perform Leos Janacek’s Piano Sonata 1.X.1905 ‘From the Street’. This is a rarely performed work in the piano repertoire. However its potent narrative and the challenge in communicating this was what had initially drawn me to learn it. Janacek composed this sonata as a tribute to a worker who was shot by political troops amidst demonstrations in support of a university on 1st October 1905 in Brno, which he himself witnessed. The titles themselves of the movements – Predtucha ( Foreboding ) and Smrt ( Death ) – already allude to its emotional intensity. 

On the day of the performance nerves were inevitable, but in the end my goal was to communicate to the audience the narrative that Janacek had intended, to make them feel the depth of emotions behind this piece of music and of course to enjoy the experience on this special stage. 

International competitions always offer the opportunity to interact with musicians with different musical upbringings and experiences and to be inspired by one another’s mentality towards music-making. Feeding off the positive and restless energy that musicians have for their craft further increases my own ambitions to create better interpretations and performances every time I am onstage. 

This exciting opportunity and worthwhile experience could only be made possible with the assistance of the Theme & Variations Foundation Award. I would like to extend my gratitude to the Foundation for its generosity in continuously opening new doors for us as young pianists.


Annie Ma – 2018 Recipient2019-05-07T03:13:39+00:00

Calvin Abdiel – 2017 Recipient

Thank you for the kind support that the Theme and Variations Foundation has given me through the scholarship. It had really helped me to improve my opportunities as an aspiring performer and artist.

I am grateful to be selected as one of the 42 contestants out of 174 electronic applications for the Aarhus Competition in Denmark. It was a very worthwhile experience; I met contestants from the well-known conservatories around the world, including RAM, Curtis and Eastman. The competition was very well organised; as we arrive at the competition office, we were all given a timetable (akin to the complexity of the London Underground timetable) outlining our spaced-out practice times. We were all assigned a letter and number combination for our identity in the timetable. There was a high degree of professionalism in the competition, including in the high quality of the contestants.

The competition is unique in its adoption of rules from large international competitions. Firstly, it only gives 10 minutes of warm-up time for the 1st round and no warm-up time for the 2nd round. It tests the contestants whether they can adjust to the piano in a short amount of time, which had a heavy touch in this competition. The voting system is also based on large professional competitions, where each competitor receives a Yes or No vote for their performance. This eliminates the chance of mark manipulation during the competition process.

In the competition itself, I progressed to the Semi-Finals but unfortunately didn’t make it to the Finals. Nevertheless, I have learned valuable lessons in competing at such high standards. Most importantly, I have made personal connections with international competitors which (hopefully) will last in my lifetime.

For Calvin’s outstanding performances, click here for Round 1; and click here for Round 2.

Calvin Abdiel – 2017 Recipient2019-05-07T03:00:18+00:00
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