The Year Seven student from New South Wales is the youngest ever winner of the prestigious music prize.

Cellist Benett Tsai has become the youngest ever winner of the 2016 Fine Music Network Young Virtuoso Award. The Year 7 student from New South Wales competed against performers from around the country – all finalists having won their State’s Young Virtuoso award – for the prize of $10,000.

The judging panel consisted of Suzanne Johnstone, Curt Thompson and Hoang Pham – who won the Young Virtuoso Award in 2001. “In general I look for somebody who has that something extra,” said Pham. “Of course talent and musicality, but very often you’ll find there’s one person there that stands out that little bit more. It’s very hard to describe but you know when you feel it, hear it, see it.”

Cellist Benett Tsai

Despite his youth, Tsai has already won a string of awards, including the Alf and Pearl Pollard Memorial Instrumental Award for Performance Excellence and the 25 and Under Viola, Cello and Double Bass category at the 2015 Sydney Eisteddfod. He was also awarded first prize at the 2015 Australian Concerto and Vocal Competition in the Young Performers category and the Junior Section of the NSW Secondary Schools Concerto Competition. He has also obtained his AMusA and LMusA diplomas from the AMEB, both with Distinction.

3MBS General Manager Leone Knight and Benett Tsai

“The Tsais are indeed a musical family,” said his mother Tracey Tsai. “Benett’s father, Joshua, is an experienced piano performer and teacher, Uncle Thomas is currently his cello teacher and another uncle, Caleb, is also a fine musician based in the US.” It was Tsai’s father who accompanied him in the finals of the competition, performing David Popper’s Hungarian Rhapsody and the second movement from Dvořák’s Cello Concerto. Benett has also learned with leading Australian cellists Susan Blake, Li-Wei Qin and David Pereira.

The annual Young Virtuoso of the Year Award is run by the Australian Fine Music Network, a collaboration between Fine Music (Sydney), 3MBS (Melbourne), 4MBS (Brisbane), 5MBS (Adelaide) and ArtSound (Canberra).