Where’s Lyall?

My former English teacher and fellow-Dulwich-Hill gangster Lx first tipped me off a few weeks ago. The ABC Young Performers Awards (revived this year after a two-year hiatus)[non apostrophe sic] were being held in Sydney. The semi-finals would be at Angel Place and tickets were just $50 for 6 sessions over 2 days. One of the semi-finalists was Tony Lee, whom we both liked (and who was awarded the prize for best Australian competitor) at the 2016 Sydney International Piano Competition.

Lx, who is retired, planned to go. Work commitments precluded my getting to all 6 sessions, but I thought I might get to some of it. Individual sessions were $15 so I wouldn’t be risking much.

In the end, I made it to two sessions. I could have saved $15 and flashed my ticket for the first session at the second – it was general admission and far from a full house.

I caught bits of other sessions whilst beavering away at my day (or, as often happens, night) job.

There were 109 entrants (so I heard), who submitted “digital” (video) auditions. The semifinalists, as announced back in April, were:

• Anna Da Silva Chen, Violin, 21
• Stefanie Farrands, Viola, 29
• Waynne (Woo Seok) Kwon, Cello, 22
• Andrew Lebedev, Guitar, 26
• Shaun Hern Lee, Piano, 16
• Tony Lee, Piano, 26
• Robbin Reza, Piano, 23
• Oliver Shermacher, Clarinet, 22
• Riley Skevington, Violin, 25
• Emily Sun, Violin, 29
• Benett Tsai, Cello, 14
• Victoria Wong, Violin, 19

Anna Da Silva Chen injured her hand and had to withdraw. She was replaced by Perth-born (more recently studying in Melbourne) pianist Kevin Chow, 21.

That’s a pretty strong North- or East- Asian background tendency which seems to be the future for classical music, and not only in Australia. It’s a bit like the makeup of academically selective highs schools and though the reasons are complicated some of them must be similar so far as youthful diligence, discipline and parental support/direction are involved. The tendency is less marked for blowing instruments which tend to be started later than bowed strings and the piano.

The two recitals I went to (at this stage still online) were:

Reza and Tony Lee; and
Shaun Hern Lee and Skevington.

Lx and I both made special contributions. Lx got involved in a concert-rage incident with a relative of a performer videoing it with her phone right in front of him which then led to a more specific warning about turning off devices being made at subsequent sessions. I managed to drop an apple from my lap which rolled all the way down to the front of the hall (at least it wasn’t Jaffas.) More mysteriously, a tennis ball landed just near me at about the time of the concert rage incident.

None of those I heard got through to the finals. Lx, who had heard everyone, favoured Reza. I was sorry that Tony Lee didn’t get through. There was a terrible buzz in the piano when he was playing (on E an octave and a bit above middle C) and I am surprised he didn’t rush off stage and ask for it to be fixed after the first piece. I particularly enjoyed his first two Schubert-Liszt transcriptions, though the third Waltz one went on a bit.

The finalists were Sun, Chow and Schermacher. There was little doubt that Sun should go through – she was the string category winner in 2011 after all (but apparently still eligible to enter again, which I doubt would have been the case in the days of the old “Concerto Competition”). Lx had included Schermacher in his top 4 and I was pleased to see him go through as he seems a nice young man and I met him on the train one night on the way home from a performance of The Nose.

The Young Performers Awards as they are now known have had various incarnations. In my youth they were known as the “Concerto Competition” even though they included vocal entrants. Each ABC state orchestra held its own finals before by some inscrutable process a Commonwealth final was convened.

The onstage and on-air commentary made much reference to numerous past winners.

In the audience I spotted a familiar figure – doyenne or at least veteran of the Sydney piano scene, Lyall Duke. No Sydney pianistic occasion is complete without her presence. Lx told me that she had been to all the semi-finals.

Home from the last semi-final I went through the list of past winners online and saw that Lyall Duke (from Tasmania) had been a Commonwealth finalist in 1949. I shot off an sms to ABC Classic FM’s number:

You do realise that Lyall Duke 1949 piano finalist was at the ypa, at least at the 2 sessions I attended?

On Tuesday to the finals at the Sydney Opera House with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Milton. These were better attended than the semi-finals. The respective concerti were:

Schermacher – Weber 1.
Chow – Prokofiev 2
Sun – Beethoven

Predictably, Emily Sun won. Nicholas Milton, a violinist, knew the Beethoven concerto the best of the three and the orchestra played it the best. Neither of the others disgraced themselves. I thought Ollie could have taken half a step forward – literally and figuratively.

But where was Lyall Duke? In vain I scanned the Concert Hall for her distinctive senior-pianist hairdo.

Lx and I did not stay for the announcement of the results. And then, in the car on the way home, I found out where Lyall had been: in the broadcast box with Margaret Throsby giving commentary.

Not that she got to give much – she was a bit long-winded and too nice to make good copy. Throbbers obviously felt a need to move things along. (I especially like the ten seconds from about 1:16:50 in the broadcast).

I know this could have been planned all along [PS: turns out it was – see comment below], but I like to think my SMS might have set a ball rolling, figuratively speaking.

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2 Responses to “Where’s Lyall?”

  1. Amelia Gledhill Says:

    Lyall Duke was the official expert commenter for the ABC which is why she was in attendance at all the Semi Finals Recitals.

    • marcellous Says:

      There you are; nothing to do with me at all! I’m surprised we didn’t get more commentary from her during the semifinals, unless I missed it because of the format of the online broadcasts.

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