After two days of intense competition in the Semi-Finals of the 2018 ABC Young Performers Awards, three outstanding musicians have been chosen to progress to the Finals next week: pianist Kevin Chow, violinist Emily Sun and clarinettist Oliver Shermacher. The three performers will each play a concerto with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Nicholas Milton at the Sydney Opera House on July 24, competing for a grand prize worth $80,000.

ABC YPA Artistic Advisor and Sydney Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster Emeritus Dene Olding, who led the team of adjudicators, described the competition as “one of the most difficult I’ve had to judge” when he announced the Finalists following the sixth Semi-Finals Recital at City Recital Hall last night.

Young Performers Awards2018 ABC Young Performers Awards Finalists Kevin Chow, Emily Sun and Oliver Shermacher. Photo © Tom Truong

The announcement of the Finalists marks the culmination of a marathon 48 hours of competition, which saw impressive performances across the board. Kevin Chow, who stepped up into the Semi-Finals following the withdrawal of violinist Anna Da Silva Chen due to an injury, gave a robust performance of wide-ranging repertoire, from the curtain-opening first movement of Beethoven’s Opus 106 Sonata through Liszt’s transcription of Schubert’s Litanei, Liszt’s glittering Spanish Rhapsody, Strauss’s Ramble on Love from Der Rosenkavalier (arranged by Grainger) and Kasputin’s colourfully swinging Concert Etude Op.40 No 7, Intermezzo.

Emily Sun’s recital saw the violinist tackle Grieg’s Third Violin Sonata with a dark, full-throated sound, her attention to the longer phrases playing out across Margaret Sutherland’s uneasy Nocturne, which became a nice segue into a stunning rendition of Igor Frolov’s Concert Fantasy on Theme’s from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.

Oliver Shermacher was the only wind player to make it through to the Semi-Finals, more than justifying his place with a virtuosic recital of Kovacs, Debussy, Brahms, Edwards and Poulenc, the highlight of which was his wild performance of German composer Jörg Widmann’s Fantasie, which saw him sliding around the clarinet and dispatching multiphonics and other extended techniques with panache.

In addition to the finalists, the adjudicators awarded three Special Commendations. The first went to pianist Tony Lee, whose recital began with beautifully clean, sparse Scarlatti and closed with Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata, the pianist admirably persisting despite a buzzing note from the Steinway that disturbed the more exposed textures.

The youngest Semi-Finalist, cellist Benett Tsai also received a Special Commendation for his assured recital (for which he was accompanied by his father Joshua Tsai), which featured a performance of the Dvořák Cello Concerto’s second movement to give you goosebumps, and an intense, virtuosic account of Prokofiev’s Cello Sonata.

The other cellist in the Semi-Finals, Waynne Kwon, also received a Special Commendation for his recital, which included larger than life performances of Martinů’s Variations on a Theme by Rossini and Castelnuovo Tedesco’s Figaro from The Barber of Seville, Schnittke’s formidable First Cello Sonata and a prayer-like account of Ross Edwards Water Spirit Song.

Other highlights of the Semi-Finals included violist Stefanie Farrands’ high-energy world premiere of Elizabeth Younan’s new Micro Symphony, in which the composer seems to tip her hat to her mentor Carl Vine, both in the name and in her deft integration of rhythmic intricacy and lyricism – all of which Farrands delivered impeccably. Violinist Victoria Wong’s finely drawn account of Biber’s Passacaglia was another highlight, as was her performance of Matthew Hindson’s solo Song of Life.

Update: The repertoire has been announced for the Finals: Kevin Chow will perform Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto, Oliver Shermacher will perform Weber’s First Clarinet Concerto and Emily Sun will perform Beethoven’s Violin Concerto.

The results of the 2018 ABC Young Performers Awards