Nicholas Young, winner of the 2016 Allison/Henderson Sydney Eisteddfod Piano Scholarship. Photo: WinkiPoP Media
After returning from a busy series of recitals across Europe, alumni Nicholas Young spoke to Sydney Eisteddfod about the many things he has learnt through competing, both musically and personally. The winner of the 2016 Allison/ Henderson Sydney Eisteddfod Piano Scholarship revealed why he decided to perform Liszt's Sonata in B Minor and how he prepared for this performance.
What inspired you to start playing the piano?
I suppose it was family. My elder brother had begun taking these things called ‘piano lessons’, and as a curious child I asked if I could do the same, just to see what exactly it was all about. Also, I grew up listening to my mother practise a Contrapunctus from Bach’s The Art of Fugue. I remember it like it was yesterday, and of many composers Bach is still my favourite of favourites.
What was it like to win the Sydney Eisteddfod Allison/Henderson Piano Scholarship in 2016?
It was of course an immense honour and thrill to win the Sydney Eisteddfod Allison/Henderson Piano Scholarship after a number of years entering the Sydney Eisteddfod. At the same time, as a much older pianist than when I started, I understand now that this is but a small stepping stone in a musical career - being a ‘winner’ comes with great expectations for the future as well, and I hope to make good on the enormous support shown by the jury in awarding this scholarship to me.
You chose to perform Liszt’s Sonata in b minor, tell us about this piece.
It is, put simply, one of the fundamental works of the pianistic canon. It is both a challenging test of a pianist’s technical stamina and interpretative discipline, as well as a perfected work of musical art. What makes this sonata stand out from many sonatas is that Liszt has written a single, continuous structure of music, without breaks between movements. It is a thirty-minute dramatic monologue that encapsulates the entire aesthetic of the composer, and better than any other work that Liszt composed, reveals his vision for the piano as an instrument of transcendence.
What did you do to prepare for your performance?
Having learnt the sonata some years ago, it was already largely in the fingers, so I devoted just over a week immediately before the performance to re-reading the score, giving numerous practice performances in front of other people, and working slowly and meticulously on fine technical details and securing the memorisation of the work.
What lessons did you learn through competing at Sydney Eisteddfod?
Competing at Sydney Eisteddfod, much like going through life, had its ups and downs over the many years. Some years were incredibly fruitful as far as prizes were concerned, and others were not. But each appearance at the Sydney Eisteddfod was always an incredibly valuable learning experience, and I learnt that nothing was ever lost by participating, rather, it would always lead to personal growth no matter the outcome.
By the end of my participation in Sydney Eisteddfod, through it's major piano scholarship, I learnt that success and satisfaction came closest when the beauty of music-making and artistic communication remained central to my preoccupations, rather than the concern or fear about mistakes or whether the audience and jury will like my interpretation.
What would you say to a young pianist that was thinking about entering Sydney Eisteddfod? What advice do you have to offer?
Prepare yourself thoroughly, know your music back to front, then go for it! You will learn a great deal about yourself in the process. Depending on what sections you enter, you may not win a prize at the first attempt - you may not get to the end of your piece at all - but simply by entering you will provide yourself with the best possible preparation for your next public appearance, whether that be a piano performance or any other act of presentation. And you may just surprise yourself in discovering what you are capable of.
You recently performed a series of European Recitals in Salzburg, Berlin and London, what was this experience like for you?
It was a great pleasure to return to Europe, where I studied my Masters degree. It was a very challenging experience, as I gave myself the task of presenting daily recitals with big programs and little time in between to rest, not to mention having to travel between each city. I met some wonderful people along the way, some of whom wrote very complimentary reviews, so it was a productive and constructive undertaking that I hope will develop my presence in the international music scene as well as my skills in tour preparation and performance.
Which other performers do you most like to listen to, and why?
I like to listen to the more 'eccentric' performers because I am always captivated, and a little jealous, of their unique ear for sound and incredible self-conviction in spite of public ridicule - I am quite reticent in comparison to them. More generally I enjoy watching all sorts of performers, and seeing what strength from their craft I can learn from, whether it’s Barenboim’s grand and somewhat old-fashioned Romanticism, Argerich’s fiery yet effortless virtuosity, or Cameron Carpenter’s youthful energy and brashness.
What are you most looking forward to before the end of the year?
Thankfully the year is soon coming to an end after a busy schedule including chamber music at the Australian National Academy of Music with the Artistic Director Nick Deutsch, and two performances of Holst’s The Planets arranged for Two Pianos, which I performed with Adam MacMillan for the Melbourne Festival’s series on Grainger. I’m looking forward to many more projects coming up next year, among them the inaugural recital series and tour of Ensemble Françaix, a collaboration I began this year with outstanding oboist Emmanuel Cassimatis and bassoonist Matthew Kneale to explore the colourful variety of music for woodwinds and piano.