As part of SIPCA’s 40th birthday bash, the former People’s Choice winner plays two recitals in Australia.

In celebration of its 40th anniversary, the Sydney International Piano Competition of Australia has announced a national recital programme featuring a line-up of popular past competitors including First Prize winners Andrey Gugnin (2016) and Konstantin Shamray (2008), People’s Choice winners Ming Xie (2016) and Ayako Uehara (2000), and Tony Lee, who was awarded Best Australian Pianist in 2016.

Ayako UeharaAyako Uehara

Uehara, who was the Second Prize winner as well as the people’s choice at SIPCA in 2000, subsequently won First Prize in the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition. She makes an anticipated return to Australia next week, performing in Sydney and Melbourne. Uehara fielded some questions from Limelight:

You were only 19 when you competed at the Sydney International Piano Competition of Australia in 2000. What did winning the two prizes mean for your career?

At the Sydney competition and the following concert tour, I met many wonderful people. It is my lifelong treasure. To have had great experiences at such a pivotal age has really helped transform my career. The competition helped me to grow a lot as a person and as a musician.

How do you think you have grown?

Especially after the Tchaikovsky Competition, I received many offers and performed in many concerts. I feel that I gained various experiences from these concerts, which helped me grow.

How useful or important do you think music competitions are?

Winning competitions increases performance opportunities and allows you to meet outstanding musicians, which broadens your musical range.

In your recitals in Sydney and Melbourne three of the five pieces you are playing are by Mozart. Why did you decide to play so much of his music?

I have been studying period instruments for several years. When I played on a period piano for the first time, I was surprised by how expressive the piano in Mozart’s time was. I also found by careful reading that in a seemingly simple score, many things were written [included]. At present, I am interested in pursuing how I can express the emotions written in the score on a modern piano while maintaining the [original] style.

You have described the theme of your recitals in Australia as “fantasy”. Can you tell us about that?

I feel that for Mozart fantasy is quite an adventure, while for Schumann and Liszt it is a field in which they can freely present their own expressions. Mozart’s fantasy is positioned relatively near romanticism in classicism while keeping the style’s beauty around the edges. In contrast, Schumann and Liszt put their personal emotions in their fantasies, going beyond the style. I find the difference interesting. This theme brings out the inner world of each composer with depth and clarity.

In 2002, you became the first woman and the first Japanese citizen to win the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition. You were also the first Japanese pianist to sign a recording contract with EMI. Do you feel like a bit of a trailblazer for Japanese musicians?

I don’t think so. Before me there was Ms Mitsuko Uchida who is my inspiration.

Each season you do recital tours in Japan. Is it important for you to spend time at home, and how much time are you able to find in your busy schedule to return there?

I have three daughters and finding time to spend with them can be challenging. I perform concerts constantly – around 30 to 40 a year. But I ensure that I am always able to have time at home.

Ayako Uehara plays at St Johns Southgate, Melbourne on June 5, and at the Eugene Goossens Hall, ABC Centre, Sydney on June 6