The master and two apprentices

The Theme & Variations Foundation’s main fundraising event took a different direction this year when our ambassador, Alexander Gavrylyuk, conducted a master class with two promising young Sydney student pianists, Jake Cheong and Leanne Jin.

Held in the Theme and Variations Piano Services Willoughby showroom on 27 November, it attracted an audience interested to hear the technical and interpretive skills that divide good performers from great performers.

Both students played Prokofiev, a composer favoured by Alexander in his repertoire and instinctively felt by him on a cultural level. While millions of people have heard Alexander play (always to rave reviews, these days) few would have witnessed his ability as a teacher and communicator. He combined humour, kindness, and a wealth of musical advice to the two students as he commented on their playing, often demonstrating his points with his own playing. It was here that the unspoken difference between ‘on the way’ and ‘arrived’ came through. These two students were leaders among the emerging crop of young Sydney classical pianists, both having won significant recent competitions and awards. While they played their chosen Prokofiev works admirably, the passages Alexander replayed for demonstration came from another dimension. His technique was simply astonishing to say nothing of his powers of interpretation.

We live in a world of achievement ladders, acknowledging the rungs above us and often aspiring to reach them. It was never more clearly demonstrated than in this master class. So many of us in the audience would have loved to play as well as Jake and Leanne. But above them, virtually as high as you can go, sits Alexander Gavrylyuk.

The master and two apprentices2020-03-12T23:11:31+00:00

An outstanding concert by three past winners

On October 30 2018 we held our annual major fundraising musical event. This time we asked three of our brilliant young award recipients to put together a joint recital. We wanted to show our donors just how worthwhile their support is, and that only with their generosity can the Theme & Variations Foundation discover and financially assist such exceptional young Australian pianists.

While not all of our winners will become professional concert pianists, there is no doubt that they will make significant contributions to Australia’s musical life.

2014 award recipient, Pavle Cajic, demonstrated that he is already an accomplished pianist when he played a transcription of Mozart’s Symphony No 41. Then he delighted the audience with a performance of his own composition, Ballade for flute and piano. Sydney Conservatorium student Chloe Chung played the demanding flute part of what is a milestone composition in this genre. Professor Michael Brimer commended the two performers for playing this 17-minute piece from memory, demonstrating their commitment and skill.

Rachael Shipard, one of our recipients from last year, showed her growing maturity and technique when she began with a Haydn sonata and followed it with Busoni’s 10 Variations on a Theme of Chopin, a fearsomely challenging and seldom heard work she ‘discovered’ herself.

The third pianist, another award recipient from 2017, was Calvin Abdiel who performed a variety of short piano works by Albeniz, Liszt, Scarlatti and Bizet. He then blew the audience away with his Scriabin Sonata No 5. One seasoned music lover declared he’d never heard it played better.

The three young pianists then finished with a surprise by all sitting down together at one piano and playing Rachmaninov’s Romance for six hands from his Valse et Romance (for piano six hands).

The evening concluded with a light supper during which time our audience members had an excellent opportunity to chat with each of the three performers. This was a delightful evening, and our young performers impressed everyone with their artistry and their enthusiasm.

Music review by Fraser Beath McEwing
Sydney Opera House Concert Hall, Sydney Symphony Orchestra
29 August 2018

An outstanding concert by three past winners2019-02-11T22:42:13+00:00

Our ambassador nails it!

A moving feast of Johannes Brahms.

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra devoted its prowess to a whole program by one composer in the APT Master Series concert last night. And while that didn’t cast a wide musical net, it delivered an outstanding experience for those who are partial to Johannes Brahms.

The concert predictably began with the popular Academic Festival Overture Op.80, but then, when one might have expected a symphony in the mix, presented two concertos with kind-of-adopted Australian soloists.

Brahms composed the overture in response to being awarded an honorary philosophy doctorate in 1880 from Germany’s Breslau University. He sent a thankyou card in the form of a concert overture based on four university drinking songs. This is stirring tankard music, calling for a substantial orchestra with plenty of action in the percussion department and some robust statements from the brass. The overture is an optimistic mood setter, which the orchestra, under an enthusiastically swooping David Robertson, passed on to the audience.

With the warm-up done, it was time for two leading members of the SSO to leave the peloton and take up positions in front of the orchestra. Violin and cello principals, Andrew Haveron and Umberto Clerici, were the soloists in Brahms Concerto in A minor for violin, cello and orchestra, Op.102. There are many members of the orchestra who could have careers as soloists, but opt for orchestral tenure. Haveron and Clerici are two such musicians. It was a real treat to see them in concerto mode.

Brahms double concerto poses quite a challenge of coordination, because each of the three parties (two soloists and conductor) has to know exactly what the others are doing. It makes sense to draw soloists from top orchestral posts where they (to borrow a pre-school expression),“play well with others.”In this case, the two men combined like siblings and were also able to project above and beyond the orchestra (what they usually must not do) in this engrossing concerto. And while both exuded assured techniques with rich tonal delivery, I was particularly taken with the way Clerici abandoned himself to the music. He was almost as engaging to watch as to hear. The audience responded to the performance of the work with the kind of affection reserved for family.

During interval the furniture was rearranged to make way for the Steinway Model D to be played by Alexander Gavrylyuk in Brahms Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor, Op.15. I had the good fortune to hear Gavrylyuk practising this concerto last week. He was siting at another Steinway in Theme & Variations showroom in Willoughby and, although the piano lid was closed, I was in awe of the power he generated. This is what is required for the Brahms, along with a definitive reading, of course. Gavrylyuk told me that he rated this work among the greatest of piano concertos and marvelled that Brahms was only in his early twenties when he composed it. He added that the Wednesday performance would be the first time he’d played it in public.

Although Alexander Gavrylyuk was born in the Ukraine, he spent his formative years in Sydney and became an Australian citizen when he turned 18. He is now ranked among the most sought-after pianists in the world, with a string of stellar performances and rave reviews to his credit. You can find his exhilarating rendition of the Rachmaninov third at last year’s London Proms on You Tube.

With all this as an aperitif, I couldn’t wait to hear what he’d make of the Brahms. In a word, I was gobsmacked. I opened my box of superlatives and couldn’t find anything good enough to describe his playing – not to forget the support he had from David Robertson and the SSO with precision and matching passion.  While Gavrylyuk’s technique seemed to have no limits, it was his interpretation of this concerto that made it the best Brahms No. 1 I’ve heard, live or recorded. There were moments during the slow movement that almost moved me to tears, and when he laid into what are some exceedingly demanding passages in the first and third movements, I wanted to fly. This was high voltage, inspirational stuff that comes along very rarely.

Music review by Fraser Beath McEwing
Sydney Opera House Concert Hall, Sydney Symphony Orchestra
29 August 2018

Our ambassador nails it!2019-02-06T04:39:58+00:00


Avan Yu, winner of the 2012 Sydney International Piano Competition, was invited back to play a concert at the Sydney Con last night. It was a triumphant return to the city that hitched his career to a rocket six years ago. He is now one of Canada’s most sought-after pianists and is building an international career. Only last month he recorded a Liszt program in collaboration with the Fazioli piano company in Italy.

Yu’s generous program began with a Mozart sonata, No 18 in D Major K.576. His later pieces confirmed him as a compelling bravura pianist which, when applied to the first-up Mozart, gave a reading that would probably not appeal to classical period purists. While the central, adagio movement was unhurried and lyrical, the two outer movements (Allegro and Allegretto) zipped along at a challenging pace.

Next came Le tombeau de Couperin, one of Ravel’s major solo piano works. Yu’s, sparkling technique and sense of tonal colour shone through the demanding six movements. In the final, toccata, Yu’s technical mastery not only gave it a flying finish but set up high audience expectations for what was to come.

Liszt filled the second half of Yu’s program with two Petrarch sonnets and the Sonata in B minor. To me, these were the highlight of the program. Liszt is often thought of in terms of piano gymnastics built around schmaltzy motifs. Many pianists play Liszt according to this formula because they believe it will give audiences what they want. But Liszt has another side that is more to do with contemplation and romance. Avan Yu places this interpretation on his Liszt, which, perhaps, provides a valid reason to put yet another CD recording of this composers work on to the market. Make no mistake, when power, clarity and speed are called for, Yu is up there with the best of them, but his focus comes across as looking for beauty rather than bombast.

While I thoroughly I enjoyed the two Petrarch Sonnets, 104 and 123 the B Minor Sonata was breathtaking. I’ve got to say I’ve never heard it played better on the concert platform.

Before playing a Liszt Hungarian rhapsody encore, Avan Yu told his audience that he loved coming back to Australia and that Sydney was his second home. Too often, competition winners disappear without trace once they have fulfilled immediate engagements related to their win. Those now running SIPCA intend to keep in touch with their winners and bring them back to delight audiences the way they did the first time around. The concert by Avan Yu was just such an event.

Music review by Fraser Beath McEwing
Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium of Music
30 June 2018

PLAY IT AGAIN, AVAN2019-02-07T00:16:15+00:00
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