Nicholas Kennedy 2018 piano

Nicholas Kennedy. Photo: WinkiPoP Media

An interview with Nicholas Kennedy


Nicholas Kennedy, 2018 finalist in The Sydney Eisteddfod John Allison & Kawai Piano Scholarship, shares some of his earliest childhood memories and personal values that guide him as a musician. 

What inspired your passion for piano?

It was really my interest in music generally. In fact, the instrument I first wanted to learn was the harp! But when I did get my hands on the keys as a five-year-old, I guess it was the sheer tactile thrill of playing and the variety of sounds one could create. The ability to recreate music I knew was pretty cool, too.  

Have you ever taken singing lessons?

I did actually take singing lessons for a few years in primary school and sang in choirs into my teens. Again, the passion was really music first; I relished the freedom to be creative and expressive within that medium.

Who inspires you and why? 

Honestly too many to name. But if I had to single out a few of my heroes... well in the world of piano I'd start with Emil Gilels for his glorious, variegated sonority and Murray Perahia for the finish and logic of his playing. I'm a cellist too, and Mstislav Rostropovich has always been someone I admire deeply, not just for his unrepeatable playing but for how he defended human decency in a shockingly oppressive political climate. My own teachers have always given me great inspiration, my friends and colleagues likewise, and of course my parents are the foundation of everything.  

Tell us a little bit about the piece you performed in the Final and why you chose it. 

Brahms's Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel is an epic work. Borrowing the Aria from Handel's First Harpsichord Suite, it's an apotheosis of Brahms's renowned love for music of the past, complete with a sicilienne à la Couperin, a musette and a mighty closing fugue in the mould of J S Bach. I'm a sucker for Brahms in general and am currently writing my Honours thesis on his use of musical allusion, so I guess it was a natural choice for me.

What is the best piece of performance advice you've ever heard?

"This is music for piano, not for pianists." In other words, our artistic purpose is higher than ourselves. Any truly convincing performance has to transcend the ego.

What are you hoping to achieve next? 

Well the immediate goal is to be accepted into a Master's with a teacher I'd like to work with - I'm applying for a range of institutions overseas. But my primary aim, short-term and long, is to become, every day, a better musician: to learn more repertoire, give more and better performances, refine interpretations and technique. For me, that also means trying to be a better person. After all, you can't perform with an integrity you don't have.