Pavle Cajic – 2014

Following my Bachelors degree in music (2017), I wanted to pursue graduate studies in composition. In 2017, I was awarded a BBM Youth Award which was a scholarship to travel to the UK and Europe to learn with composition and piano teachers and to apply for graduate composition studies. This trip was very immersive and enlightening, but unfortunately at that time I only applied to a small number of places and I was either not admitted or admitted with inadequate funding. Furthermore, I felt that the compositional philosophies in the places I visited applied a certain pressure to do something ‘new’ that wasn’t fully aligned with the reasons I enjoyed writing music. Following this I decided to pursue my compositional interests and ambitions as a freelancer in Sydney and build connections with people and groups I was already beginning to get involved with.

I collaborated with flutist Chloe Chung and oboist Ennes Mehmedbasic to form the ‘Sidere’ duo and trio. In these groups, I performed a number of concerts throughout Sydney where we explored novel curation ideas combining classical repertoire, our original compositions and arrangements, and improvisations.

I continued collaborating with violinist Ole Bohn (professor at the Sydney Con), a partnership that began when he premiered my orchestral work ‘Winter, Heartache and Transfiguration’ as violin soloist in 2018. The highlight of this collaboration was when Ole invited me to Oslo in late 2019/early 2020 to perform a violin recital featuring my new piece ‘Extinction & Rebellion’ amongst others, and also commissioned an Octet to be played in Oslo.

Meanwhile, in 2020 I was part of the formation of the Dreambox Collective, which was founded by Chloe Chung (from ‘Sidere’). This is a collective of musicians and visual artists based in Sydney, which I have been part of since its inception. Since 2020, we have put on three concerts a year, each engaging with a different social justice issue or area of focus that was important to members of the collective or that we wanted to learn about. For each concert, we created or curated works that responded to or reflected the area of focus. Each concert would partner with an independent organisation that worked in the given area, and part of the concert would be devoted to a presentation by the organisation about the work they do and their experiences. The concerts I have been directly involved in thus far were themed on pollution in waterways, raising awareness of neurodiversity, the importance of education, and climate change. In each case, I wrote and performed a work that engaged with the theme. For all other concerts, I helped out in organisational roles.

In a similar vein, I have been involved with the Sydney-based musical charity choir and orchestra Voces Caelestium since 2013. The aim of these concerts is also to raise awareness about different issues and donate proceedings to charities that focus on those issues, but here the focus is more on global poverty and human rights, and the partner organisations have tended to be large charities. These concerts have brought together a large community of volunteer amateur, pre-professional and professional musicians, and we’ve used our platform to give space to new music via calls for scores, as a result of which we’ve premiered two beautiful choir pieces, and of course the many composition premieres by myself that I’ve conducted.

On another train of activity, starting in 2019 I wanted to simultaneously pursue my deep passion for physics by completing my Bachelor of Science. This is a passion I was already pursuing in my music degree by taking electives from physics and mathematics at the University of Sydney. I completed my science degree part-time while continuing my artistic collaborations and developments.

Recently I decided to reawaken my dormant yearnings to pursue compositional studies overseas and have just handed in a number of applications to music schools in the US, where I see a diversity of music-making and openness of expression that appeals to me. I will be waiting for the results with bated breath!

Here is a project from the last few years that I’m particularly proud of: a recording of my piece ‘Gateway to Paradise’, for traditional Chinese instruments dizi, pipa, and string quartet:

Other works can be found on my website,

Thank you to Theme and Variations for supporting me in 2014 and being part of my musical journey and development, and thanks for giving me the opportunity to share what I’ve been up to. Your work is important to young pianists, even if they pursue paths not purely based on piano, as I have. I wish you and your supporters all the best for the upcoming festive season!

Pavle Cajic – 20142022-12-19T10:51:21+00:00

Alexander Yau – 2016

So much has happened since 2016. I studied for my Masters Degree at the Juilliard School from 2018-20, returning to Sydney in May 2020 during the Covid-19 outbreak, and confined to home. I felt scared, confused and worried about my future. How on earth was I going to be able to keep my studies or get a job perhaps in teaching, getting in performing, whilst everything was shut down?

It started in August 2020 when restrictions in Sydney eased slightly, I was desperately hoping to do some performances after being locked at home for about 3-4 months. I rounded up some of my friends and set up a small-sized chamber orchestra of about 20-25 people, we rehearsed and recorded a program of Brahms ’Symphony no. 3 (movements 2 and 3), Pavle Cajic’s newly written Octet called ‘San ’and finishing with Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 23, which I conducted from the piano. It was truly a remarkable experience to conduct a small orchestra whilst playing the solo piano part, as I felt myself totally immersed inside the music and heightened my sense of listening.

In 2021 things began to open up and I eventually got myself several concerts, one in Phoenix Central Park, one in the Polish Embassy Canberra organised by the Friends of Chopin Australia, one in Cooma as part of the Snowy Arts Council and many others. I performed for the first time the complete 4 Ballades of Chopin, which was quite an undertaking. I found the experience of performing the 4 Ballades on stage, a dramatic difference to practising it. One can get so emotionally involved in these masterpieces, that one will lose oneself in the stamina and instrumental control. It took me until the 3rd performance of the 4 ballades to really master them. In 2022 March I was selected as one of the 8 pianists to perform in the Charles Wadsworth Piano Competition in Atlanta, USA, where I premiered my own solo piano transcription of Strauss’s Dance of the Seven Veils (from Salome) as well as works by Szymanowski, Chopin, Ravel and Beethoven’s Violin Sonata no. 7. In October I was selected to play in the Rina Sala Gallo Piano Competition, in which I performed in the beautiful Villa Reale in Monza, Italy.

During this time, I began devoting time to teaching and being a collaborative pianist, working with different instruments. I was invited to play for the Kendall Violin Competition in March 2021, did a couple more concerts, more freelance work for the Sydney Conservatorium, SSO fellowship auditions etc. This eventually led to me being offered a causal collaborative piano staff position at the Sydney Conservatorium. This past few months were hectic, as I took on the Recital Preparation Course, rehearsing and coaching the string players for their recitals. I played for 9 students ’recitals, each of them playing at least a full sonata or work by Franck, Debussy, Poulenc, Ravel, Elgar, Mozart, Brahms, Stravinsky, as well as a concerto and a virtuosic piece.

Opera is my other passion, in which I often sit at home to play and sing through operas from Donizetti to Verdi to Puccini, Wagner to Strauss, etc. I wanted to

pursue this work and thus I was called in to audition for a repetiteur at Opera Australia, where I was immediately accepted. I now work as a contract repetiteur/vocal coach/music staff at the Opera Australia, in addition to the Sydney Conservatorium. I began my first contract in June, working on Madame Butterfly with Maestro Carlo Montanaro. My job was to play for production rehearsals under the conductor, the Sitzprobe, the principal singers ’coaching sessions, assist the conductor during the stage orchestral rehearsals and full dress rehearsals before the opening night. This is a truly different musical experience for me, as I was not working with myself or other students but professional singers and conductors. This work also made me experience all the behind scenes of what goes through in preparing an opera performance.

This week I performed a solo recital in the Annual Glebe Music Festival in Margaretta Cottage, with 2 weeks notice. It was an intimate setting in a private home and I played on an antique piano made in the 1870s. The piano timbre is very delicate and kept in good condition, that unique sound allowed me to explore the freedom of the music and an exploration of a sound world back into the past. I performed Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 101, 2 pieces by Liszt and the Polonaise-Fantasie and Ballade no. 4 by Chopin. I began to realise all these years, most young students and musicians become so focused in our work and our own ambitions, that we easily forget the reason why we do what we do. It was only when I started teaching and coaching other instruments in accompanying, I was able to bring my years of musical skills and knowledge out to the community, which in turn made me a better musician as I reflect on my practices and performances. That is the same for performing in concerts. The purpose of a concert is to enhance and enrich the audience’s enjoyment and experience through the music.

I would like to thank again the Theme & Variations Foundation for their generosity for supporting young artists! They are among the very few organisations who truly understand what big steps and risks one must undertake before launching their musical work and talents in the world after years of hard work and studies. I am in admiration of their aims and works in helping other young artists getting to where they want to be and I wish the newly Foundation Award recipients all the very best for their careers.

Alexander Yau – 20162022-12-13T00:10:32+00:00

Leanne Jin – 2018

I am extremely grateful for the support I have received from the Theme and Variations Foundation over the years. This grant has aided and supported me through my studies in Sydney and now in the United States where I am currently studying my Masters of Music at the Yale School of Music. I started my first semester in the States in September and have been enjoying my studies here so far! Coming here, I have had the opportunity to meet, listen and work with incredibly talented musicians for classes and chamber as well as learn from the amazing piano faculty at the Yale School of Music. I am studying with Boris Berman and Robert Blocker this semester. As part of my studies, we also get the opportunity to listen and participate in masterclasses presented by the piano faculty.  They are all very different with their teaching approaches so it’s very interesting for me.

It has really been very inspiring and motivating so far. As my first semester here is almost ending, I look forward to learning some new repertoire during the break, spending time with friends and family. I am excited to see what is in store for me next year.

Moving across the world has definitely a big change for me, but it is one that I am embracing and loving. Missing Sydney very much and looking forward to coming back soon!
Leanne Jin – 20182022-12-30T09:45:24+00:00

Annie Ma – 2018

Since my last update, I have had a few performance highlights and achieved some milestones. One of them was performing a sold-out concert of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No 2 with the SCM Symphony Orchestra. The other was completing my Bachelor of Music course and Honours thesis submission.

This year I was fortunate to have had several recital and performance opportunities in and around Sydney. It was motivating to re-immerse myself back into the performance preparation process after coming out of a challenging lockdown period. Early in February I performed a recital in the Southern Highlands Arts Bundanoon Music At Ten concert series. It was my first public recital in a considerable while and I presented an eclectic program featuring some less-performed treasures including Bartok’s Dance Suite and Janacek’s In the Mist. I am particularly enthusiastic about presenting rarely-programmed works and sharing my discoveries with audiences.

In the middle of the year, I played in a series of concerts in the Southern Highlands and South Coast in preparation for a five-day piano festival Encuentros Españoles curated by my teacher, Natalia Ricci. It was an immensely educational few months engaging in an intense all-Spanish project. This project really allowed me to delve into and familiarise myself with the idioms of Spanish music in a way that I had not had the chance to previously. The core of it was understanding the inner rhythms and characteristics of different types of dance and flamenco and how I could colourfully express these elements through the piano. It was a challenging commitment, especially the pieces from Albeniz’s Iberia. Because the music is often so festive and exuberant it is very enjoyable to play and listen to.

Annie Ma – 20182022-12-13T00:03:27+00:00

Ayesha Gough – 2016

A lot has happened in the last six years – to all of us! In 2019, I was fortunate to undertake a Masters of Music at the Royal College of Music, for which I received a distinction. This was a tricky period for me and my classmates to navigate as the pandemic began a few months into our studies and many of us, including me, had to return home and finish the degree online.

I gained a lot of extra skills during the pandemic, however, and began to develop an interest in multimedia performance and online engagement. After receiving the Michael Kieran Harvey Scholarship this year, I have developed a large-scale project titled Landings, which involves travel, improvisation, film, editing and poetry. Landings, viewable on YouTube, is an exploration of my connection to the Australian landscape as an Australian musician through the creation of music videos that contain my own filming, music and words, and will keep me busy until April 2023.

I am also looking forward to performing Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto with the Northern Rivers Symphony Orchestra in July 2023, conducted by my wonderful boyfriend Marco Bellasi. Teaching a lovely studio of around 30 students keeps me busy during the week, and I have a lot of time to develop my creativity and to design future projects where I can combine my pianism with my interest in innovative performance ideas.

Further instalments will come out on my channel in January, April and May.

Ayesha Gough – 20162022-12-12T23:59:40+00:00

Joshua Han – 2013

I have just finished my third year at the University of Sydney, where I am undertaking a double degree in Arts and Medicine. Playing the piano, however, remains a deep passion of mine: it’s definitely more than a hobby, isn’t it? I cherish the times that I have been able to perform and compete, like in Theme and Variations Emerging Artists series last year. It is without a doubt that I’ll continue playing into the future!

For your interest, some recent prizes that I have won are, in 2022 Australian Youth Classical Music Competition — 2nd Prize and Audience Prize; and in 2022 2MBS Fine Music Young Virtuoso Award — 1st Prize.

Joshua Han – 20132022-12-12T23:56:47+00:00
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