Alumni Ayesha Gough, winner of the 2014 Sydney Eisteddfod Allison/Henderson Piano Scholarship, spoke to Sydney Eisteddfod on what it was like to compete in the prestigious Sydney International Piano Competition. She also shared her insights and advice on competing and performing for those who are thinking of entering Sydney Eisteddfod.
what inspired you to start playing the piano?
For me, there was not one specific inspiration; rather, I was simply drawn to the instrument. If there was a piano in the room, I would be there banging away as a toddler. I cannot explain my connection to music and the piano; it is instinctual and something I believe I was meant to do.
What was it like to win the Sydney Eisteddfod Allison/Henderson Piano Scholarship in 2014?
Winning the 2014 Sydney Eisteddfod Allison/Henderson Piano Scholarship was a fantastic feeling. I knew some of the other finalists and greatly appreciated their pianism, so I was humbled to have been chosen by the jury as the recipient of the scholarship. I also knew the scholarship would provide generous financial help to me as I progressed through the last years of my Bachelor at the Queensland Conservatorium, so I felt enormously grateful to Sydney Eisteddfod.
What lessons did you learn through competing at Sydney Eisteddfod?
The first time I competed in Sydney Eisteddfod in 2013, I actually exceeded the time limit by a minute or so. This occurred in the preliminary round of the Sydney Eisteddfod Allison/Henderson Piano Scholarship. As a result, I was disqualified, even though I received encouraging feedback from the judges. While I was a little disappointed in myself for losing the opportunity to compete in the final due to a very small error, I certainly learnt my lesson and ensured I was well under time limit in 2014!
After hearing so many of the other entrants in the 2013 and 2014 Sydney Eisteddfod Allison/Henderson Piano Scholarship, I realised how invaluable it is to have an independent voice. In both years, the standard was very high, and I believe the judges were looking for those pianists who approached their performances with a spiritual message.
What would you say to a young pianist that was thinking about entering Sydney Eisteddfod? What advice do you have to offer?
Go for it! There are so many different sections to enter in Sydney Eisteddfod that require a broad range of applicable repertoire, and the quality of venues and instruments is very high. As a result, Sydney Eisteddfod is a great way to obtain performance experience and feedback from adjudicators or audience members.
What was it like to compete in the Sydney International Piano Competition in July?
Competing in the 2016 Sydney International Piano Competition was the best experience of my life to date. I felt truly inspired in my performances: I was surrounded by phenomenal pianists, performing in a beautiful venue and working with amazing pianos. It gave me the opportunity to meet many important people in the music industry, and the live broadcast meant my performances were heard across the world. There was no way I could have been disappointed in not progressing to the semi-finals, as I learned so much and gained a refreshed perspective of my future.
What Did you Do to PrePare For your performance?
At least six months before the competition, I began my preparations. Over the course of 2016, I learned some new repertoire, revised old repertoire, and maintained an entire programme of about three hours. In the final days before my two performances, when I arrived in Sydney and had settled in, I tried not to practise too much; rather, I focused on trusting my preparation and immersed myself in the competition environment, which was immensely exciting. Right before each performance, I meditated on the character and meaning of my repertoire, and pushed all negative thoughts aside, instead concentrating on the excitement of being one the lucky 32 competitors.
Which other performers do you most like to listen to, and why?
As a woman, I am very interested in hearing other female performers, chiefly because I can draw inspiration from them. I admire Martha Argerich enormously: she is a phenomenal pianist with almost super-human abilities. Yuja Wang is a particular inspiration for me. I really admire her confidence and feel it shows through in her playing. She is undoubtedly a role model for the younger female pianist. Sviatoslav Richter is also another favourite for me. His performances are edgy and electric: within Richter exists something supernatural.