In Conversation: Alexander Yau

In Conversation: Alexander Yau

The winner of the Sydney Eisteddfod Piano Award on competitions, preparation and Liszt.

In Conversation: Alexander Yau

The winner of the Sydney Eisteddfod Piano Award on competitions, preparation and Liszt.

Alexander, an enormous congratulations on your recent win at the Sydney Eisteddfod! Can you tell us a little about how you got competition-ready: how you prepared for your performances and what the differences are when getting ready for an eisteddfod compared to a regular recital? 

I have done this John Allison Piano scholarship multiple times already and was admitted into the finals a total of three times, so I felt comfortable with this competition process and environment. Preparing for an eisteddfod competition is very different to a regular recital, because in a recital I play for 45 mins or more with a long program, whereas in an eisteddfod, I only prepare one or two works. Therefore choosing the ‘right’ works for an eisteddfod is a crucial element to ensure success - the ‘right’ works have to be something you feel you can play better than anyone else.

You performed Liszt's Sonata in B minor - what does the work mean to you and how did you first come across it? 

Liszt’s Sonata in B minor means a lot to me. It was one of the first of Liszt’s works that I ever listened to and I was immediately awestruck by its grandeur. I have been playing it since I was 10 and felt ready to perform it on stage at the age of 21. I visited Weimar earlier this year, where Liszt wrote this work and many others; the place not only represented the spirit of Liszt and 19th-century literature but also was the place that Liszt really began his career as a composer whilst being a virtuoso pianist. Having been to this place made me feel more connected to Liszt and his Sonata, so I am very fortunate to have been able to share my feelings and ideas about it in the finals.

Piano lessons began for you at age 6; what are some of your early memories with the instrument, and do you remember the moment you decided that performing was the thing you wanted to do professionally? 

My early memories with the piano were simply being too ambitious and not practising much but learning and playing pieces that I hear. That moment only came where I realised that playing the piano was something I had to do each day, equivalent to having dinner. The true moment that I wanted to do piano seriously and professionally was only after my success at the 2015 Lev Vlassenko Piano Competition.

This prize will allow you to pursue further study internationally on the piano - how important is it for emerging artists to continue their studies overseas and where do you hope this scholarship will take you? 

I think it is only important for emerging artists to continue their studies overseas if they have a clear goal of what they want to achieve and how they would go about achieving it. It may be to seek after a particular teacher to improve certain aspects of piano playing or composers’ works or musical style, or to gain a wider reputation, or to seek experience and absorbing the traditions of a certain city in Europe to help gain insightful interpretations.

I will be using this scholarship as part of my funds for studying at the Juilliard School in New York with Matti Raekallio, which commences in September this year. I plan to explore and perform works, which I have not played much of before, which are works by Russian composers in 20th century and music after 1950 as well as exotic works from various national schools.

If you could give a piece of advice to pianists taking part in the Sydney Eisteddfod next year, what would you like them to know? 

In general, eisteddfods are great platforms for young pianists to build up performance experience and confidence. The competition results are not the most important and they must not let that affect the mentality of the young pianists. Treat the eisteddfod as a performance opportunity and always remind ourselves that we will never stop learning, no what matter at what stage we are in.

Finally, why do you play the piano? What do you hope audiences get out of your performances? 

I was not born to play the piano, I merely started it as a hobby and gradually became attached to it. It is, in a way an extension of myself; a way to express ideas and emotions.When I perform, I hope to create a sensation or an experience for the audience, to make them feel something. The whole performance is meant to be an emotional journey, where the audiences’ state of mind or mood is changed and inspired after the end of a piece or a recital.

Photo courtesy of WinkiPop Media.