Melbourne International Youth Music Competition: An Accompanist’s Perspective

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Published: 20th August, 2019

From August 2-5 the Melbourne International Youth Music Competition attracted musicians from Asia and Oceania to Deakin Edge, Federation Square. It provided them with an opportunity to showcase their talents in master classes given by Melbourne’s preeminent musicians and perform on an international concert platform. The prize on this occasion was a George Breyer upright piano. This year’s competition was my first time accompanying at this event.

The rules are very strict. All competitors must perform from memory, wear formal attire and the ushers have been very firm in ensuring no performances are videoed or photographed.

I was initially emailed standard literature for violin: Massenet’s Meditation from Thais and two movements from a Handel sonata. Then came music for Erhu. This is a two string bowed instrument not unlike a western violin in sound but played more like a violincello. I was struck by how haunting Piazzolla’s Grand Tango sounded on this beautiful instrument.

Modern compositions by George Gao and Wenjiu Liu ensued, originally written to be accompanied by orchestra but performed with piano for the competition. These works showed the Erhu has the capacity to almost sound like electric guitar. The Gao in particular had a finale not unlike some Bon Jovi. Driving rhythms, fast licks, cadenzas were all featured in this piece composed in 2012. The 3rd and 4th movements of the Liu, composed in the 1980s and dedicated to the building of The Great Wall of China, reflected the monumental size of the structure and the people’s hope for the future.

I guess the trickiest aspect of this competition was the language barrier, as some normal Italian terms didn’t translate easily into Mandarin. So the interpreter in our rehearsals had to find replacement words that didn’t always work.

The contestants pretty much kept to themselves during the competition, whereas most competitors in Australian competitions have spoken to me whilst waiting to go on. Again, the language barrier was probably a key factor there. Lots of thumbs up and smiles for reassurance.

The competition included representatives from Beijing, Shanghai, Taiwan and Hamilton New Zealand, the winner being a pianist. I congratulate Benjamin Martin for directing this wonderful cultural festival and look forward to the possibility of performing again in 2020.