James Guan 2015 award recipient

I have had quite a lot of experiences since we last spoke in March, in April I travelled to the Clamo International Piano Competition in Spain and was awarded third prize and them in May I participated in the Jaques Samuel Intercollegiate Competition in London and was 1 of 2 semi finalists chosen from the Royal Academy, the semifinals will take place in October. I then had both a Beethoven Concerto Exam where I played the 4th concerto with a friend and my end of year exam where I performed the complete Op 10 Chopin Etudes within a span of 2 weeks in June, needless to say that was a stressful fortnight. In July I travelled Lyon for the Lyon International Piano Competition where I progressed to the Semi Final Round.

I have also been performing in recitals in various venues in the UK and one morning in July I received a phone call asking whether I could perform a recital at Regents Hall with 2 hours notice seeing as I had performed there a couple of weeks ago and they’re pianist had injured her arm that morning. I accepted and performed a slightly different programme than I had previously and only afterwards did was I informed that it was actually for the Beethoven Piano Society! The Chairman has since been in touch with me to offer me more recital opportunities.

I am now back in Sydney for a much needed break and also to switch from a Tier 5 Youth Mobility Visa to a Student Visa for the final year of my masters.

James Guan 2015 award recipient2022-12-08T10:32:29+00:00

Postcard from Pavle Cajic – 2014 award recipient

2017 was my year off study, as I did teaching work and private compositional and pianistic work in preparation for my Masters studies this year, which I am currently in the process of auditioning for.

A highlight of this year was the Voces Caelestium 5th charity concert at which I premiered another of my own compositions for orchestra and violin solo, with violin professor from Sydney con, Ole Bohn, playing the solo part and myself conducting (‘Winter, Heartache and Transfiguration’). The recording for that composition (along with recordings of other of my compositions) can be found here, on my soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/user-867944070

I auditioned for a Masters in composition at two places in London; Royal College of Music and Royal Academy of Music. I was accepted at the Royal Academy, but could not accept due to the international student fees being too large. I have also applied at three music schools in Germany, in Berlin, Munich and Leipzig. I am still waiting to hear from them as to whether I am passing to the second round of auditions.

I am currently in the UK on a BBM Youth Support scholarship supporting music-related travel in the UK. I am having piano and composition lessons in London and elsewhere. I will be heading over to Germany afterwards to do my auditions.

Best wishes


Postcard from Pavle Cajic – 2014 award recipient2022-12-08T10:25:28+00:00

Pavle Cajic 2014 Award Recipient

Happy New Year! I have just finished my undergraduate degree at the Sydney Con. I did my final recital in November and it went very well. I played Beethoven’s Sonata No. 23 (‘Appassionata’), Chopin Etudes Op. 25 nos. 7 and 11, and Scriabin’s fifth piano sonata.

This year I am planning a year of self-exploration as I put university study aside for one year and audition for competitions and travel to Europe to meet with potential new teachers in Germany, where I plan to undertake my masters in piano and/or composition in 2018 – so that’s where I will continue to invest my Foundation award. Meanwhile, over the summer I am planning a charity concert with friends (an annual event) where we will perform orchestral, choral and chamber works, including a chamber piece of my own. I will also be playing piano at the concert.

At our charity concert at the beginning of 2016, I conducted an original composition of mine for orchestra, ‘The Depths of Night’. I have been composing for almost as long as I have been playing piano: certainly since the beginning of high school not a year has passed in which I have not been writing something or other.

‘The Depths of Night’ was written in 2015, and this recording was made in March 2016 at the Voces Caelestium annual charity concert. I envisage this piece as the first part of a multi-movement work, primarily for singer and orchestra, but with the first part (this part) being for orchestra alone. The work as a whole will bring together my experiences of different parts of the day, as the day progresses, beginning and ending with two different views of night. This part is a very private sort of expression… a collection of various psychological states I have experienced in the depths of night, when the most personal, special, intimate, fearful and ecstatic thoughts fly unrestrained through my mind.

Please take a listen if you’d like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TmlkaDU_kBA

Pavle Cajic 2014 Award Recipient2022-12-08T10:29:09+00:00

Pavle Cajic , 2014 winner, reports from Germany

3 August 2015

From 4-19 July I attended the Estivo Chamber Music Summer School, a newly established initiative by the Sydney Conservatorium partnered with the Verona Conservatorium whereby around 40 students are selected through a competitive process to participate in two weeks of intensive chamber music-based tutorials and concerts in Verona, Italy.

Students auditioned in their nominated chamber groups; I have formed a trio with Victor Avila (Violin, 4th year at the Con) and William Raftery (Cello, 2nd year at the Con) (St Veaux Trio). As part of the summer school we were tutored on and performed Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in D minor and Beethoven’s Piano Trio Op.97 (‘The Archduke’).

Our tutors included people from the Con as well as guests from Europe: Georg Pederson (cello lecturer at the Sydney Con), Jorg Fassmann (violin lecturer at the Hochschule für Musik “Carl Maria von Weber”, Dresden) and Christian Wilm Müller (piano professor at the Franz Liszt School of Music, Weimar).

It was a wonderful but tiring experience playing together 6 hours a day (3 hours of tutorials and a further 3 hours of practice and rehearsal time). The tutors were insightful and we became much more cohesive and aware of each other as a group. In total we performed two concerts, one trio per concert. The concerts were held in local Verona venues; churches or small halls, and also at the Verona Conservatorium itself. The concerts were very well attended by the local Veronese community.

Following the summer school I went to Berlin where I had organised a private lesson with Birgitta Wollenweber, the current head of piano at the Hans Eisler Hochschule für Musik in Berlin. It went very well and she said she would like to meet again and we had a discussion about opportunities for completing a Masters in Germany.

Pavle Cajic , 2014 winner, reports from Germany2022-12-08T10:28:23+00:00

2014 winner: Alex Raineri

April 2015

Having recently returned from a month’s travel in Europe on study scholarships, I’m left with many wonderful experiences and memories to reflect on. I was very fortunate to have received generous funding from the Theme & Variations Foundation and the Joyce Campbell Lloyd Scholarship (University of Southern Queensland). My sincere thanks go to these organisations for making this endeavour a possibility!

These scholarship funds allowed me to pursue a number of private piano lessons with sixteen different teachers in Brussels, London, Paris, Manchester and Graz. Also, I was able to spend time in Brussels with Kupka’s Piano composer Liam Flenady work shopping our new work for piano and tape Si el clima fuera un banco which I will be premiering in ‘Outer Sounds’ on June 19th at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts.

In addition to working with these inspiring musicians, I also gave my first UK performance, a live broadcast on BBC Radio 3 of the Brahms Clarinet Sonata in F minor with Andreas Ottensamer. Andreas and I had worked together numerous times in Australia and it was so fortunate that our schedules collided allowing us to work together again!

Reflecting on the benefits of the trip, it was extremely useful at this point in time to have the opportunity to work with so many great teachers and start to build overseas networks. It was enlightening to notice how often advice was contradicted from teacher to teacher. I gained many useful things from each lesson individually but perhaps the greatest learning experience of the trip was, in studying with so many different people, to realise just how much ideas about interpretation and pianism differ (sometimes quite radically!).

This might seem like a rather obvious realisation, but for me it was quite confronting to face on a day-to-day basis within the context of an intensive study trip. The actuality of discussing my own thoughts and ideas about the repertoire I was working on, whilst also soaking up all kinds of new ideas and approaches became something of a blur and overload of information.

Thankfully I recorded my lessons so am able to slowly go back through the files and incorporate new ideas into my practice. Speaking more broadly, I feel now that in approaching whatever music I’m playing, more of a need to have formulated a very thoroughly structured approach to every facet of the interpretation. This was already how I approached repertoire prior to the trip; but I hadn’t ever had to so consistently validate, justify and discuss whether the ideas I had worked into my interpretations were as successful as they could be.

Within the Australian music scene and my generation of colleagues in particular, there is a common conception that ‘the grass is greener’ on the other side of the world and that further studies in Europe or America is a logical progression for a serious young musician. I found it was really useful to have this taster (albeit brief) of overseas study.

It was very interesting to catch up with some very talented and entrepreneurial colleagues and friends and discuss how they have facilitated working in a new country having come from Australia. Without coming to any real conclusion or concrete opinion on this matter, it was good to scope out future possibilities. I’m certainly not planning on leaving Australia on a permanent basis anytime soon.

Whilst overseas I saw some really fantastic concerts! Some highlights were: Anna D’Errico & Ian Pace performing Enno Poppe’s Thema mit 840 Variationen and Lost by Richard Barret, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra & Leonidas Kavakos playing the Sibelius Violin Concerto, Klangforum Wien presenting new works by young composers (particularly interesting were the pieces by Wojtek Blecharz and Ashley Fure), Louie Lortie performing Preludes of Faure and Scriabin, London Philharmonic Orchestra in Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy and Belle Chen in ‘Kiss of the Earth.

I would like to conclude by acknowledging the numerous people that made the trip such a stimulating and maturing experience, and for being excellent people. There wasn’t a dull moment! Whether we worked together or simply hung out in new and exotic places, many thanks to Andreas Ottensamer, to Ute Pinter and the team at the IMPULS Academy, to Liam Flenady, Hannah Reardon-Smith, Bethany Shepherd, Katherine Philp, Gian Ponte, Anna D’Errico, Christophe Matthias, Ian Pace, Aquiles Delle Vigne, Leslie Howard, Murray Maclahlan, Vanessa Latarche, Joanna Macgregor, Mark Knoop, Charles Owen, Alexandra Madsar, Rolf Hind, Christopher Elton, Peter Hill, Pascal Nemirovski, Francoise Thinat, Ian Jones and Graham Scott.


2014 winner: Alex Raineri2022-12-08T10:27:39+00:00

2014 Winner: Pavle Cajic, our good wishes for the 2016 competitions

17 December 2015

The past few months have been spent at Uni preparing for my recital and SIPCA audition. I spent them largely alternating between practice and resting or relaxing, as I had few other academic commitments.

One of the few I did have though was Piano Pedagogy, a third-year requirement, where we learnt various techniques, methods and philosophies that have been developed throughout the past century or so to teach piano, and music more generally, to beginners, and especially children. The culminating assignment for this subject was to construct a lesson plan for three lessons worth of teaching a particular piece to an intermediate-level student. We also had to stage a mock lesson using other students in the class. It was a new experience for me as I don’t do any formal teaching.

During that period I also finished a new composition for orchestra, as I am trying to get into the habit of constantly composing, which is another passion of mine.

My end of year requirement at Uni was a forty minute recital containing one piece representative of each major era in Classical Music: Baroque, Classical, Romantic and 20th/21st Century trends. I performed Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G minor from Book 2 of the Well-Tempered Clavier, Mozart’s Sonata in A minor, Chopin’s Ballade in G minor and Messiaen’s Vingt Regards: no. 4. But I didn’t get much rest after that as I had to immediately prepare for my Fine Music Young Virtuoso Audition, using some of the same pieces, and my SIPCA recording, which consisted of a different program which I thought was more suited to the audition tape requirements: Chopin’s Ballade in F minor, Liszt’s transcription of Isolde’s Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, and Scriabin’s 9th piano sonata. I chose those pieces based on the pieces I have felt most successful and enjoyable to perform in the past. My University results for the past semester recently came out and I’ve continued with a HD average, which I was very happy about.

That pretty much sums up the past few months – since then I’ve been learning new pieces and preparing for my 50-minute recital recording in February for the Fine Music Young Virtuoso Award Semifinals.


2014 Winner: Pavle Cajic, our good wishes for the 2016 competitions2022-12-08T10:31:12+00:00

2013 Winner: Joshua Han

May 2015

Joshua Han was one of the award winners in the Theme and Variations Foundation’s inaugural assistance program for young Australian pianists in 2013.

His talent is being recognised both in Australia and overseas. Although Joshua only celebrated his twelfth birthday in October 2014, he has already established himself as one of the most successful piano prodigies to compete in the Sydney Eisteddfod.

Since making his first solo appearance at the eisteddfod in 2009, Joshua has won 14 gold medals in a variety of events, including the prestigious Kawai Piano Award (Any Age) that is coveted by pianists more than twice his age. In 2013, with his elder brother Oscar, Joshua was a grand finalist in the television talent show Australia’s Got Talent. In Germany last year, he competed in the prestigious Ettlingen International Piano Competition and won the junior category with highest mark ever recorded in a competition that includes such luminaries as Lang Lang and Yuja Wang among its previous winners.


April 8 2015

From Ken Han (Joshua’s father):

We are very excited to inform you the fantastic news from the Aarhus Denmark International Piano Competition.

On last Sunday early morning, the Prize Winners Concert for Denmark Aarhus International Piano Competition took place, with the prizes being awarded after the performance. After an incredible performance from all four prize winners, Joshua was awarded both the 1st Prize and the Audience Prize of Category A (16 year old or under).

A stunning achievement on his behalf, having competed against many competitors three to four years older than him.

Thanks for the support to Joshua and we will keep you updated for his further progress


January 6 2014

During the last few months I went to Gisborne to perform in the Summer Concerts, which was a great success. I also have performed a few times for The King’s School.

As for the Prize Money, I have tuned and voiced my piano at home, so thank you very much for the funds that Theme and Variations Foundation have given me.

2013 Winner: Joshua Han2019-02-01T07:06:34+00:00

2013 Winner: Hank Xiang

July 14 2014

From September 2013 until July 2014, I spent the entirety of my time in Saint Petersburg, Russia where I was undertaking the preparatory course for the Specialist Diploma. The preparatory course consists of piano lessons with your professor (two times a week), nine hours of Russian language every week and lessons in harmony and solfeggio. This intense course proved to be a rewarding experience, in particular, working with my professor – Nina Seryogina. Being one of the first students of the respected Russian pedagogue Dmitri Bashkirov, through her, I was allowed to experience the intensity and quality of this Russian School. In the lessons, we worked through standardised repertoire, which will be important for international competitions in the future. Her teaching method is pedantic and typical of this school Several times we worked on just one page the whole lesson and, being unhappy with the results, she told me to come back the next day.

The period of studying in the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory have allowed me extend my circle of contacts. For example, in the beginning of 2014, I was given the privilege of playing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto no.1 with the conservatory’s conducting orchestra for the examination of my friend from Cyprus. Any opportunity to perform with an orchestra is a privilege many conservatory students won’t receive throughout their studies and I was fortunate enough to have come across this. Also, through my teacher I was allowed to attend a series of master classes given by Bashkirov and perform in an ‘Academic Concert’ with her top students and students of Alexander Sandler (another respected pedagogue, who taught Miroslav Kultyshev).

Finally, life in Saint Petersburg has broadened my sense of culture and has opened my mind. Learning a new language completely different to English, and being forced to speak it on the streets is a rare experience, even for travellers given that English is the universal language across the world. The city itself has a rich history and walking on the roads which were once littered with death and poverty from the Siege of Leningrad not even a century ago creates a strange, appreciative feeling. In terms of art, Saint Petersburg offers countless museums and several concert halls, many which host world-class concerts simultaneously on the same night. I was able to catch all three ballets of Tchaikovsky, Joshua Bell, Andras Schiff, Freddy Kempf, Eliso Virsaladze throughout the year!


January 6 2014

A little update about me…

We’ve been having lessons throughout Christmas (I had a piano lesson and a Russian language class on Christmas Day!) and there is a small break now during the beginning of the New Year. It’s been pretty busy so far, my teacher has been giving me lessons twice a week for the past couple of months, and this week is the only break I have before we start again. Furthermore, I will be playing the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto #1 in the middle of January with an orchestra of the conservatory in the Glazunov Hall, to help my conductor friend from Cyprus. We are having our next rehearsal on the 15th – if you like, I could maybe take some photographs. Unfortunately, I don’t have any recording equipment with me other than my mobile…and also, access to a decent piano is very limited. We play on Yamahas during my lesson and those are considered prestige compared to the ones in the dormitory. During my stay in Russia, I’ve only played on a Steinway once during a rehearsal in the hall. But whatever is lacking in facilities is made up by the environment of this city. Concerts are frequent not only in the conservatory’s Glazunov Hall and main theatre, but also in Mariinsky 1, Marinsky 2, Marinsky Concert Hall, the Philharmonia’s main and small halls, and the Capella just to name the big ones. Quite often you would have a dilemma as to which concert to attend. I’ve watched countless famous and not-so-famous international and Russian artists perform, ballets and operas – many for free because of our student cards or for a small amount of bribery, a standing ticket.

The weather here is quite warm – these days we frequently have above 0 temperatures even though it snowed heavily a month ago. The dormitory environment is comforting; we just had a New Year’s party and then passed the year on the streets on Nevsky Prospect. While the food outside is not so spectacular, I’ve learnt to cook and improvised some delicious dishes at home with the help of some Spanish and South American friends from the dormitory.

2013 Winner: Hank Xiang2019-02-01T07:07:30+00:00

2013 Winner: Tony Lee

August 23, 2015

Tony Lee was one of three a recipients of the first Theme & Variations Foundation awards in 2013. Tony has just spent three months in Belgium at the Chapelle Musicale Reine Elisabeth as a soloist in residence studying with Maria-João Pires. This program is reserved for a very small number of exceptionally gifted young musicians, and his recital on Sunday August 23 showed the benefits of his training. He is fast becoming a leading pianist, not only of exceptional technique but also of interpretation.

He played works by Schubert and Rachmaninov.

After his concert at the Theme & Variations Willoughby showroom, T & V Foundation board members, Fraser McEwing and Anita Levy talked to Tony about his studies and his plans.


Have you been performing in Australia while you’ve been here?


Apart from my performance for Theme and Variations this afternoon, I performed a solo recital in the Southern Highlands for Arts Bundanoon and in Brisbane with the Queensland Youth Orchestra, playing Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre.


What are your immediate plans?


On Wednesday I return to Belgium to continue my Artists’ Diploma at the Chapelle Musicale Reine Elisabeth with Maria-João Pires. I am a soloist in residence at the Chapelle and this is where I have been based the past year and hope to be for the foreseeable future. The Chapelle also organizes many concerts for us and through this I am able to develop through performance experience and establish contacts for the future. To coincide with this I will be undertaking a Masters degree in Oslo also. I have been very fortunate to be awarded the Theme and Variations Foundation award and the Vlassenko Prize, these have been wonderful opportunities. Pianists must take every opportunity which presents itself, any artists has to be at the right place at the right time to win recognition and become known. It’s also a constant learning process.

Fraser: What was the focus of your studies this year?

Tony: I am building on my repertoire this year, focusing on the Viennese classics – Beethoven & Schubert especially. Contemporary music is a passion for me also, a couple months ago I gave the European premiere of Gareth Farr’s Piano Concerto with the   BBC Philharmonic Orchestra after a successful launch of the New Zealand Symphony Series last year with the same concerto. I love Russian music also and will be performing Rachmaninov in the Wallonie Festival as well as the Russian Romantics Festival in Belgium. For that I will perform Rachmaninov’s first concerto with the Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra.


How do you structure your practice? How much do you practise? (How much focus is on say, technique during practice?)


Motor technique is built generally when you’re younger and that more or less adapts as you get older when you need to work on more repertoire. The main work is usually on interpretation of course, when working on Schubert for example, there’s a different feeling of playing his works from when you play Beethoven. There’s a difference in sound – it’s Viennese, and not German; how it flows, how it’s phrased… Schubert can be very elegant and dancelike in mood; Beethoven also but somehow in a more rustic way. In regards to practice time, I guess it should become more efficient with time.


Are you taught these differences and how to interpret them?

Tony: We learn from early on all the basics but perhaps living and studying in Europe helps, there are certain elements you don’t attain in Australia. Much in music is in the language and culture too.


The Rachmaninov Sonata No 1, which you played today, is not heard often.


I guess I like to play things less known and performed. It’s our mission as performers, to do this. If there is something which touches us, it’s the performer’s job and joy to share that with the audience. I find audiences are usually more attentive with something fresh and are naturally more receptive, vulnerable in a way. A lot of audiences love new or unheard works but some still prefer the familiarity. I’m sure however even they also appreciate something different if it touches them.


(You brought out so many different voices and colours in the Rachmaninov sonata) Can you tell us about voicing? It’s not normally something we hear.


Perhaps when I was younger, I focused more on achieving the “perceived” sound I wanted.. It’s difficult to explain, I guess it’s important to of course have a clear idea of what you want but it’s not always possible given the acoustic or instrument, so it’s more important to hear what you’re doing and to react to that. This is thing that the greatest performers did really well, they simply listened better. Obviously you must hear everything yourself: otherwise you can’t expect the audience to hear it.


Do you also play composers such as Bach?


I do but I don’t perform it. It’s not so natural for me to play it publicly but I hope to do it one day!


Do you favour pedalling Bach?


I wouldn’t use the pedal as much. The music is pure and it doesn’t need too many extra ‘effects’ I guess. For me, Bach [music] is not so romantic in that way and there is a very spiritual element not just purely the emotional.


And for you, how do you relate to your music? (How does Maria- João Pires work with her students?)


Maria encourages us to have a more direct focus on sending the message across in whatever manner. This is such an important thing of course for any performer. She does also spend time talking about different aspects of playing the piano and little details here and there also but she really wants us to be the best communicators we can be.

July 10 2014

I wish to tell you about some of the things I’ve been doing since we last spoke. In June I performed a recital as part of the Kawai Series at the Ian Hangar Recital Hall in Brisbane. Works included three Scarlatti sonatas, selections from Tchaikovsky’s “Seasons”, Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody no. 10 and the Horowitz transcription of Saint-Saens’ Danse Macabre.

Now I’m preparing for the Australian Concerto and Vocal Competition, to be held in Townsville, Queensland at the end of this month. I’ll be playing Tchaikovsky’s first concerto – fingers crossed!

Then I stay in Sydney before my studies in Europe in mid September, I’m very excited to be moving but have a feeling I will miss Australia very much!

I return briefly however during the winter there, in time for my recital as part of the Salon Series at the Melbourne Recital Centre. I’m very much looking forward to that, playing works that are very dear to me – six selections from the “Seasons” of Tchaikovsky as well as Rachmaninov’s first piano sonata.

May 12 2014

Some of the Theme Variations Foundation Advisory Board met Tony Lee at the City Recital Hall on Monday evening May 12, at the Theme and Variations sponsored Pianists in Recital series Lukáš Vondráček concert. We were delighted to hear Tony is forging a successful career as a concert pianist. It is very gratifying to see one of our 2013 awards is assisting such a promising young musician.

Here is a letter Tony emailed later that night:

I’m writing to inform you of some of the things that have been happening for me.

I’ve just returned from an audition at the Chapelle Musicale Reine Elisabeth in Belgium where I have been accepted into the class of Prof. Maria Joao Pires. MJP is an inspirational musician who is recognised internationally as a leading performer and pedagogue.

Please see a recent article about me http://vlassenkopianocompetition.wordpress.com/2014/04/22/lev-vlassenko-piano-competition-festival/

I also wish to tell you of my recent concert with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. The premiere of Gareth Farr’s concerto received favourable reviews and can all be accessed here http://sounz.org.nz/works/availability/21827#resources

Included is a NZ radio review with excerpts from the premiere performance of the 1st and final movements of the concerto.

2013 Winner: Tony Lee2019-02-01T07:08:22+00:00
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