The prestigious Australian comp marks 40 years with national recital tours by First Prize and People’s Choice winners.

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.

Piers Lane. Photo courtesy of Sydney International Piano Competition of Australia

“The 40th Anniversary year is an important milestone for the Sydney International Piano Competition,” said Artistic Director Piers Lane AO. “The longevity of the Competition highlights our commitment to supporting the international careers of top young pianists, our success at identifying those pianists, and our concern to promote the highest ideals in Australian pianism.”

The national recital series begins in March with performances in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide by Chinese-American pianist Ming Xie, who won the People’s Choice Prize in 2016. Speaking to Limelight, Xie describes his experience at the 2016 Competition as “precious”.

“It was an important milestone, helping me become a better musician and giving me a huge step forward in my career. I have also made many old and new friends in Australia. Both the Competition and the 40th Anniversary recitals this year are significant opportunities for me,” he says.

MIng Xie. Photo courtesy of Sydney International Piano Competition

For his loosely themed recital programme, featuring music by Schubert, Liszt, Beethoven, Brahms, Scriabin and Prokofiev, Xie explores the piano “as a virtuosic instrument through the ages. Stylistically speaking, the first half is essentially Germanic and the second half is Slavic in nature,” he says.

“Each of the six groups of pieces represents a uniquely specific type of pianistic development in history, and yet they are also connected in a subtle way, which for me is fascinating. The sense of technical tour de force in ‘exploring’ different colours, emotions and expressions exists in all the work presented in the programme, which in turn underlines a unification throughout the entire programme.”

The second recital tour in June features Japanese pianist Ayako Uehara, who was Second Prize winner in 2000, when she was also named People’s Choice. Immediately following her success in Sydney, Uehara won First Prize in the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition. Making her much anticipated return to Australia this year, she will perform in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

“The Competition in Sydney and on concert tours in Australia since then, meant I have met many wonderful people,” Uehara tells Limelight. “It has been one of my life’s great treasures. At the age of 19 and 20, which is an important time in one’s life, I have had a variety of valuable experiences in Sydney and through my participation in the Competition have been able to grow a great deal both as a musician and as a human being.”

Uehara describes the theme of her recital programme, which features Mozart, Schumann and Lizst, as “fantasy. This theme brings out the inner world of each composer with depth and clarity,” she says.

Ayako Uehara. Photo courtesy of Sydney International Piano Competition

In October, Konstantin Shamray, who won First Prize as well as the People’s Choice Award in 2008, will perform in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane with additional recitals in Hobart, Perth and Auckland.

“Winning the Sydney International Piano Competition in 2008 changed my life,” says Shamray. “Suddenly I felt that the world had opened and I was free to follow my own chosen path.  The destiny of an artist is in constant development of one’s mastery and sincere service to the music. Having won a major competition like Sydney means I certainly have more opportunities to achieve this.”

For his SIPCA recital, Shamray has chosen to play Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons among other repertoire. “This cycle is one of the most poetic and precious works of the 19th century. It is very popular in Russia but I was surprised to have found out that it wasn’t often played in Australia. My intention is to introduce this ‘jewel’ to the wider Australian audiences,” he says.

Andrey Gugnin, winner of the 2016 Sydney International Piano Competition. Photo by Daniel Boud

Andrey Gugnin, the Russian-born winner of the 2016 Competition, will undertake a highly anticipated recital tour across all states, the Northern Territory and regional areas between June and September.

“The Competition gave me a wonderful exposure, allowing me to get a lot of concert engagements, and as a result I’m able to focus on a concert life which has been always my dream,” says Gugnin who will perform music by Bach, Schubert, Stravinksy, and Liszt among others.

“The idea of the programme is to show a great variety of different music styles, along with well-known classics such as Schubert,” says Gugnin. “I will perform some rare yet very interesting pieces, including compositions of outstanding Russian contemporary composers such as Alexey Kurbatov and Leonid Desyatnikov.”

Concluding the 40th anniversary celebrations, Sydney-born Tony Lee, who was awarded Best Australian Pianist at the 2016 Competition, will perform across New South Wales and Victoria.

“Being awarded the 2016 Nancy Weir Best Australian Pianist prize was a great encouragement and privilege,” says Lee. “I’m very much looking forward to the recitals later this year and to the first spring in Australia for me in some years!”