Benett Tsai

Benett Tsai, winner of the 2015 Sydney Eisteddfod Alf & Pearl Pollard Memorial Instrumental Award for Performance Excellence. Photo: WinkiPoP Media

An Interview with Benett Tsai


Benett Tsai, winner of the '2015 Sydney Eisteddfod Alf & Pearl Pollard Memorial Instrumental Award for Performance Excellence', spoke to Sydney Eisteddfod about what it felt like to win such a prestigious award. He also discussed what inspired his rendition of David Popper's 'Hungarian Rhapsody' and what he is most looking forward to in 2016. 

What was it like to win the Sydney Eisteddfod Alf & Pearl Pollard Memorial Instrumental Award for Performance Excellence? 

Winning this prestigious Award was a bit surreal for me because there were many seasoned players that night. I was very thrilled to receive the prize and felt my hard work was rewarded.

Who/what inspired you to play the cello?

My uncle introduced me to the cello when I was five years old and it turned out to be the right instrument for me. My interest in the cello came gradually though and it was the music, especially the cello concerto pieces such as Elgar’s, Dvorak’s and Schumann’s that really inspired me. My pianist father is another source of my inspiration: his artistry makes me want to become a fine musician so we can play together at the same standard.

Which other performers do you most like to listen to/watch, and why?  

 There are many players I listen to and sometimes it depends on which piece of music too! Of all I admire Yo Yo Ma and Pieter Wispelwey whose playing is very elegant and beautiful. I also found Mischa Maisky’s performances very captivating, deeply emotional and charismatic.

In the Pollard Award Final you performed Hungarian Rhapsody by David Popper, tell us about this piece and why you chose it?

David Poppers was a brilliant Bohemian cellist and prolific composer for his instrument. Hungarian Rhapsody is a Romantic showpiece with an exotic touch. I chose it because it is both musical and virtuosic which fits with the context of the occasion.

 What are you most looking forward to in 2016?

I will start year 7 in 2016 and I look forward to my high school life in a new campus at Sydney Grammar School. I also can’t wait for the many performance and competition opportunities that are available next year.

What did you do to prepare for your performance? What would you tell someone that was thinking about entering the Sydney Eisteddfod? 

I found practices right before the performance works best for me so I started my intensive playing two days before the concert. I immersed myself in the music by listening to a good recording and did lots of slow practice. I liked to record myself playing too so I could keep improving. The opportunity to perform and compete at such high level concert motivated me to put my best effort.

I would encourage anyone thinking of entering the Sydney Eisteddfod to have it a go and don’t worry too much about the result. Personally competitions provide me opportunities to perform the pieces I studied, get the feedback from the adjudicators and learn from other young talented players. Playing in front of the audience also trains my confidence and courage. It is a wonderful experience to share my music with other music enthusiasts.

What have you learnt about yourself through performing in Sydney Eisteddfod? 

Over the past three years since I started participating Sydney Eisteddfod in 2013, I have learned so much about myself.  Firstly I got to know my strengths and weaknesses through the adjudicators’ comments. Secondly, winning some prizes especially those in the more senior events helped building up my confidence in my skills and motivated me to take on more challenges. Lastly, I also found I am indeed very interest in performing and may want to become a cellist one day.