Australian-Indonesian pianist Calvin Abdiel has won third prize in the 2021 Sydney International Online Piano Competition. Born in Java and now based in Sydney, 20-year-old Abdiel was the only Australian pianist to reach this year’s final. He not only took home the George Frederick Boyle Third Prize, but the Nancy Weir Best Australian Pianist Award, and an overseas scholarship to further his career.

Calvin Abdiel

Calvin Abdiel. Photograph supplied.

Australian pianist Piers Lane, who is Artistic Director of The Sydney (as the competition is commonly known), described Abdiel as a “phenomenal talent”.

Abdiel is currently undertaking a Bachelor of Music (Performance) degree at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, studying piano under Natalia Ricci. Previous competition successes led to his orchestral debut with the St Petersburg State Capella Symphony Orchestra and subsequent performances with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra and the Swiss orchestra Les Chambristes. He has also performed in Indonesia, Germany, Denmark and Israel.

For his final recital for The Sydney, he played music by Bach/Busoni, Haydn, Brahms, Rachmaninov, Samuel Barber, and Leopold Godowsky’s Java Suite.

The Ernest Hutcheson First Prize was won by Italian-Slovenian Alexander Gadjiev, who was also awarded an additional six prizes.

“That this is a major achievement in my life, I have little doubt. The Sydney is one of the greatest piano contests on the planet, and I feel honoured to have received its recognition,” said Gadjiev.

“At the same time we must not forget that music is, and brings, a message… and a very personal one. As with every message, it includes a sender and a recipient. I am very joyful to see that my message has been understood and appreciated in all its strength, sincerity and beauty. I am really looking forward to being able to share it again in front of a live audience in Australia and all over the world in the near future. May the language of sounds stay a truthful and significant message for mankind.”

The Percy Grainger Second Prize went to Ukrainian pianist Artem Yasynskyy, who also took home five other prizes.

“The jurors all agreed that the level of this year’s competitors was outstanding,” said Lane. “In Alexander Gadjiev we have an intelligent,  communicative, elegant winner of extraordinary  musical and pianistic prowess, totally ready to spread his wings. Artem Yasynskyy, too, is a great artist. The Australian, Calvin Abdiel, the youngest in the competition, is another phenomenal talent. All six finalists are worthy of world careers. Let’s hope COVID allows us to bring them to Australia in person soon!”

First held in 1977, The Sydney takes place every four years, however the 2020 competition had to be postponed because of COVID-19. With the pandemic still posing challenges a year later, the 2021 event was held online. Thirty-two pianists from 14 countries competed over three weeks in July, with the competition concluding on Sunday 18 July. Piers Lane spoke to Limelight recently about the challenges – and joys – of running a very different competition this year.

Universal Music will release a recording of Gadjiev’s winning performance later this year. Cyrus Meher-Homji, Senior Vice President at Universal Music Australia said: “I am delighted to announce that following a new partnership agreement between The Sydney and Universal Music Australia, the coming months and years will see releases of several digital and physical albums of recordings from the 2021 Online Competition released worldwide, starting with an album of live recordings from this year’s winner Alexander Gadjiev.”

The next Sydney International Piano Competition is scheduled to return as a live event in 2023.

A full list of the Sydney International Online Piano Competition 2021 winners

Ernest Hutcheson First Prize – Alexander Gadjiev (ITA/SVN)
Percy Grainger Second Prize – Artem Yasynskyy (UKR)
George Frederick Boyle Third Prize – Calvin Abdiel (AUS/INA)
William Murdoch Fourth Prize – Alice Burla (CAN)
Arthur Benjamin Fifth Prize – Ádám Balogh (HUN)
Noel Mewton-Wood Sixth Prize – Shion Ota (JPN)
Geoffrey Tozer Most Promising Pianist not Proceeding to the Finals – Yangrui Cai (CHN)
Nancy Weir Best Australian Pianist – Calvin Abdiel (AUS/INA)
Rex Hobcroft Best Performance of a work by Beethoven – Anna Geniushene (RUS)
Rhondda Gillespie Best Performance of a Twentieth-Century work – Artem Yasynskyy (UKR)
Edward Goll Best Performance of a work by Liszt – Alexander Gadjiev (ITA/SVN)
Miriam Hyde Best Performance of a work by a Romantic period composer (excluding Liszt) – Alexander Gadjiev (ITA/SVN)
Lance Dosser Best Performance of a work by a Classical period composer (excluding Beethoven) – Alexander Gadjiev (ITA/SVN)
Best Performance of a work from any period before 1950 by a rarely-played and unduly neglected composer –Artem Yasynskyy (UKR)
Malcolm Williamson Best Performance of an Australian Piece – Alexander Gadjiev (ITA/SVN)
Best Program Construction in the Semi Final or Final – Artem Yasynskyy (UKR)
Roger Smalley Best Preliminary Recital – Alexander Gadjiev (ITA/SVN)
Best Program Presentation in Semi Final or Final – Alexander Gadjiev (ITA/SVN)
Isador Goodman Best Encore in the Preliminary or Finals – Artem Yasynskyy (UKR)
Ignaz Friedman Best Semi Final Recital – Artem Yasynskyy (UKR)
An overseas scholarship for an Australian competitor to further their musical career – Calvin Abdiel (AUS/INA)