Michael Morton-Evans guides us through the gruelling stages that performers endure

Rachel Cheung photo by Daniel Boud

It’s July. By now all the aspiring pianists around the world have learned whether they were successful and made the cut for the 32 competitors who will battle it out on the keyboard for this year’s winner. Spare a thought for all those who wanted to take part but missed the cut. Like the successful bunch, they had to submit an audition video which included a biography, professional colour photographs, documentation of musical studies, names and contacts of at least two musicians of standing to support the application and documentation of musical activity in the last five years. The video had to include solo piano works by at least three composers. Now that was just to apply!

Under the direction of the Artistic Director, eminent pianist Piers Lane AO, the four judges then pick 32 competitors. Now things start to get even more nightmarish. The Preliminaries consist of two rounds; first a 20-minute recital where the competitors can choose their own pieces, by at least two composers, then in Round Two, a 30-minute recital with different composers to Round One.

From here, just 12 competitors will be chosen to advance to the Semi-Finals. Now things get even tougher. Once again there are two rounds. Round One is a 70-minute recital in which the repertoire is ’own choice’ which should be built round a theme. The competitors are not only expected to play, but also to give verbal introductions to the works. As the rules put it, these may be just factual, or more personal, serious, or witty. Short encores must be included in the performance.

Round Two involves accompanying either Sydney Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster violinist Andrew Haveron, or Australian cellist Li-Wei Qin. The interesting thing here is that the competitors must prepare two pieces from a list of works for violin and piano, and two pieces for cello and piano. They won’t know until the last minute which of the two instruments, violin or cello, they will be expected to accompany. Six of the dozen will play with the violin, while six will play with the cello.

From there, six will be chosen for the Finals. Again, there are two rounds, the first being a pre-1800 concerto by either Bach, Beethoven or Mozart chosen from a given list and performed with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Then, in Round Two, a post-1800 concerto from a list of 15 composers. And of course, throughout all these rounds, the competitor is expected to play without sheet music, except for the chamber music round.

And all this for the Ernest Hutcheson first prize of $50,000 and the hopes that bookings will come in from all over the world. It is truly a pianistic marathon.