Eklavya Mudgil – 2022

I am thrilled to be a recipient of a Theme and Variations Foundation award in 2022! It is a dream come true to receive the generous support of the Foundation. I have admired all the previous recipients as role model musicians for many years now.

In 2022, I completed my Bachelor of Music (Performance) Honours degree with First Class Honours from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music studying with Dr Paul Rickard-Ford and my research supervisor Mr Lewis Cornwell. It was an honour to study with such esteemed faculty of the Sydney Conservatorium. I was overjoyed to conclude my undergraduate studies with a graduation recital of youthful Romantic and Twentieth Century works by Strauss and Shostakovich. It was also a joy to write my first research thesis on the contributions of the lesser-known Czech composer Antonin Reicha to the development of fugue treatise in the early Nineteenth Century.

I was also very excited to be awarded two George Henderson merit scholarships in 2022. The first was awarded to attend the 11th Summer International Piano Academy in Disentis in Switzerland from late July to early August. There I took masterclasses with Professor Andreas Groethuysen, the Head of the Keyboard Department at the Mozarteum Universität in Salzburg, Austria. The second was awarded to participate in the Winter Term in January 2023 at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in California, which I am currently attending. I am taking classes with Professor Joseph Stillwell on making piano reductions of symphonic scores and classes taught by managers of the internationally acclaimed Opus 3 Artists Management company on the ins and outs of artist management. These scholarships have enabled me to visit Europe and America for the very first time!

It has been an immense privilege to participate in these international exchange programs as it is an invaluable opportunity for me to learn from legendary concert artists, be inspired by the most promising young musicians and acquaint myself with the rest of the ‘musical world’.

Over the holiday break, I am looking forward to preparing for further postgraduate studies at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year! 

Eklavya – writing from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Bowes Centre on the 14th of January 2023.

Eklavya Mudgil – 20222023-01-20T02:54:03+00:00

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, www.pavlecajic.com.

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

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

Oscar Wong – 2017 award recipient

Last year in December I was also fortunate to become a prize winner in the Japan Open International Piano Competition. This event was part of 11 Ways to Malta, a series of piano competitions which ran across two years around the world which included over 730 pianists from 11 different countries to participate in the Malta International Piano Competition. The top five performers from each of the 11 countries were selected to perform in Malta. And so, here I was for the first time in Europe! It turned out to be a thoroughly emotional and memorable trip filled with good food, good wine and great music! 

The competition was divided into three rounds, a 20 minute recital, 50 minute recital and a concerto round. In both recital rounds we were required to perform works by local Maltese composers, Alexey Shor and Joseph Vella. Sadly Mr Vella passed away earlier this year, and the festival performed his music throughout the two weeks to commemorate his life. I had previously performed the Childhood Memories suite by Alexey Shor, who commended my playing during the Japan Piano Open. 

There were 70 performers in the first stage, some extraordinary pianists who are prize winners in the Queen Elisabeth, Tchaikovsky and Chopin and competitions. Unfortunately I wasn’t one of the 40 to proceed to the recital round. However I have no regrets in my efforts, and I am already looking to the future. What I cherished on this occasion was the opportunity to listen to other performers. It was incredibly amusing to discover culture and their personalities which arose from their performances. Evidently, it is the pianist’s personality which is the most important factor in occasions such as competitions. 

I had the immense privilege to listen to my childhood idols including pianists Nikolai Lugansky performing Rachmaninoff’s Paganini Rhapsody and Grigory Sokolov in a recital of Haydn and Schubert. What a moving experience Sokolov’s recital was! His encore of Schubert’s Impromptu Op. 90-4 is a performance that will stay with me for my whole life. The festival also featured other maestros such as Maxim Vengerov, Narek Hakhnazaryan and our local hero Ray Chen, whom I met after his concert. 

I am indebted to the generous support from the Theme and Variations Foundation which enabled me to cover the cost of my flights to Malta. 

Warmest wishes,


Oscar Wong – 2017 award recipient2019-02-07T02:39:52+00:00
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