What role did Pinchas Zukerman and Bramwell Tovey play in launching your career?
I really have to thank them for recognising my talent early on and for giving me crucial opportunities. Maestro Tovey heard me play when I was 14 and immediately decided to engage me to play with the Vancouver Symphony in the following season. He has invited me to play with the orchestra on numerous occasions – one of which was to be the guest soloist on the orchestra’s first national tour in 30 years. Maestro Zukerman invited me to attend his summer music program in Ottawa when I was 17. It was my first chamber music experience (Schumann Piano Quintet) and it opened up a whole new world of music to me. A few years later, Maestro Zukerman engaged me to play with his National Arts Centre Orchestra. Normally, that would have been already a big break for any young artist. However, Maestro Zukerman went a step further and got Yo-Yo Ma, who was appearing in the same concert, to agree to perform with me. I was given only a few days notice to learn the piece we were going to perform: Chopin’s Introduction and Polonaise brillante Op. 3. It all worked out and the concert was a great success!
Pianist Avan Yu. Photo © Dan Hannen
What do you see as the value of competitions, and how important have they been for your career?
It’s easy to love competitions when you win and it’s just as easy to hate them when you don’t. There have been several competitions which have really made a difference to my career. The most significant one was definitely the Sydney International Piano Competition. Through the competition, I have probably travelled to more places in Australia than most Australians have! These days, the competitions that really matter are the ones that develop the careers of their winners. In this regard, there’s no doubt that the Sydney International Piano Competition is among the most influential piano competitions today. I am truly grateful to the competition for the opportunities and experiences I have had since winning in 2012.
What have been the biggest highlights of your career so far?
Performing with Pinchas Zukerman and Yo-Yo Ma was certainly a highlight. Also, giving my recital debuts at Carnegie Hall in New York and Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, performing at the Sydney Opera House with the Sydney Symphony, and walking on stage to a full capacity audience in the grand hall of the Berlin Philharmonie.
What has been the best thing about living and studying in New York City?
The fantastically inefficient and outdated subway system…! I love New York for its vibrant music scene and the energy in the city.
How did you put together the program for your upcoming Australian performances?
A few weeks ago I recorded a new CD in Italy of works by Franz Liszt. The major work on the CD is the Sonata in B minor – arguably the greatest composition by Franz Liszt – so it was an easy decision to include it in the program. As we are in the final year of the Centennial Commemoration of the First World War, I thought it would be appropriate to play Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin, written during the war and in memory of fallen soldiers.
What’s next for you?
It’s finally time for me to tackle the Hammerklavier Sonata by Beethoven!
Avan Yu performs at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music’s Verbrugghen Hall on June 30 and Camberwell Grammar School in Melbourne on July 26