Cellist Benett Tsai has won the Ku-ring-gai Philharmonic Orchestra’s NSW Secondary Schools Concerto Competition. The year eight student – who became the youngest ever winner of the Fine Music Network Young Virtuoso Award last year – took out both the overall prize as well as the KPO Players Award with his performance of Elgar’s Cello Concerto. The judges for this year’s competition were violinist Aiko Goto and pianist Bernadette Harvey.

“Receiving both the Overall Prize and the Players Award was an honour, which was already a bonus to an invaluable experience collaborating with the KPO under Maestro Paul Terracini,” Tsai told Limelight. “Rehearsing with the orchestra provided me valuable lessons and I was delighted that the orchestra and I played our best in the concert. The incredible acoustic of the Concourse Concert Hall and the very receptive audience made the experience even more special.”

Pianist Leanne Jin took out the Barbara Robinson Award – the senior section – with her performance of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No 1, while violinist Alicia Poon won the Barbara Cran Award – the junior section, which Tsai won in 2016 – for her performance of the Khachaturian Cello Concerto. Sarah Chang and Jared Cheung won the Multiple Concerto section with their performance of Brahms’ Concerto for Violin and Cello Op. 102. Last year’s Overall Winner was flautist Brian Kim.

“It has been an exciting year for the NSW Secondary Schools Concerto Competition as 2017 is the first year it has been held in The Concourse, Chatswood – a really fine concert hall,” KPO President Liz Wilson said. “Now in its 34th year, the competition, organised by the Ku-ring-gai Philharmonic Orchestra, provides an invaluable performance opportunity and has been a stepping stone to national and international success for performers such as pianists Alexander Gavryluk and Simon Tedeschi, violinists Natalie Chee and Grace Clifford, saxophonist Amy Dickson and the competition’s first winner, pianist Hikari Nakamura.”

“The standard across all performers was extremely high and I was a delighted to be part of this most enjoyable evening of live music performance,” said Bernadette Harvey. “The KPO and Paul Terracini did an outstanding job supporting these young soloists and having the finals in the Concourse offered an atmosphere of excitement and elegance to the whole event. Well done KPO!”

For Tsai, Elgar’s well-loved Cello Concerto has a particular resonance. “The Elgar Cello Concerto has always been a special piece for me,” he explained. “It was this piece that ignited my passion for cello learning. This was Elgar’s last major work and the gripping tale of internal suffering experienced by the composer is evidently conveyed in the music. In my view, the compelling drama and soaring phrases makes this piece standout from the cello repertoire. Playing the piece with a few orchestras this year helped me to understand this beautiful concerto further.”

The young cellist has been going from strength to strength, taking out a Young Virtuoso Award at the First Berliner International Music Competition earlier this year. So what’s next for Tsai? “I will continue to learn new repertoire and appreciate the beauty of music,” he said. “I look forward to exciting performance opportunities ahead this year. I’m honoured to have been invited to solo at the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra’s Last Night of the Proms under Dr Nicholas Milton. Also, the opportunity to play with renowned musicians at Musica Viva’s Huntington Estate Music Festival presents me an incredible chance to learn from very accomplished artists. I am very thankful for these opportunities which certainly inspire me to work hard and to enjoy music.”


Benett Tsai will be performing as a soloist with the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra in The Last Night of the Proms at the Concourse, Chatswood, August 19 – 20.

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Tsai will also be performing at Musica Viva’s Huntington Festival, November 22 – 26.

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