Conservatorium undergraduate wins top piano competition

Tony Lee has been playing piano since he was five.

Tony Lee has been playing piano since he was five.”

Sydney Conservatorium of Music student Tony Lee added to his growing list of accolades on Saturday night when he took out the top prize in Australia’s foremost trans-Tasman piano competition.

One of 20 pianists chosen for the Brisbane-based competition, 21-year old Tony won the 2013 Lev Vlassenko Piano Competition with his rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 accompanied by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. The win gives the Bachelor of Music (Performance) student $20,000 for the overall win plus two special prizes of $1000 each; a recording package with the Master Performers label; and a series of solo recitals and a concerto engagement with the Queensland Youth Orchestra.

Earlier this year Tony won the 13th Scriabin International Piano Competition in Paris and last year he came third in the Adilia Alieva International Piano Competition in France. After being whittled down from an audition of 70 hopefuls, the 20 entrants in the Lev Vlassenko competition were each required to perform three solo recitals. The four finalists were required to play a concerto from a specified list.

“Usually in a competition there is already a good sense of how the finalists play, shown by their previous solo rounds,” says Tony. “The concerto round is simply to confirm the style of the artist and to demonstrate their ability to perform with an orchestra. Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto is a well known work and demands ‘presence’ and ‘passion’ – vital elements in a successful concerto performance, particularly a competition final. It goes straight to the heart.”

An added bonus in the competition, also a piano festival, was partaking in master classes conducted by its panel of esteemed jurists. “Not only did we listen to their advice, we got to see them work with other competitors and see them perform,” says Tony.

Tony says the prize money will go towards postgraduate study, which he’s due to commence next year. He hopes to continue building his career as a concert pianist, but the physical rigours of such a path and a life constantly on the move mean that he also hopes to one day pursue teaching. “Most musicians love teaching,” he says.

Tony began playing the piano at just five years old, encouraged by his flautist father and violinist mother. At the age of just 15 he successfully applied to the Central Music School of the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow, a high school that offers intensive music education. He lived and studied in the country without his family, learning Russian in daily hour long language classes.

He returned to Sydney to study at the Conservatorium’s Piano Unit, under the tutelage of unit chair Dr Paul Rickard-Ford.