Christmas Festival – 5th December 2021

Ayesha GoughAustralian pianist Ayesha Gough is developing her own style grounded in strong traditional concepts with an inherent interest in the unique and engaging. A strong passion for new music, particularly that of Australian composers, has seen her premiere new works in 2016 and 2017 by Klotz and Yedid, and collaborate with Klotz for the premiere of Midnight Rain in 2018.

First prize-winner at the 2015 Lev Vlassenko Piano Competition, Ayesha performed with the Russian National Orchestra in December 2018, under the baton of Mikhail Pletnev, as part of a concert held in memory of Lev Vlassenko. She has also performed with the Queensland Symphony, the Queensland Conservatorium Symphony, and the Queensland Pops Orchestra under such conductors as Edvard Tchivzhel, Nicholas Braithwaite, and Daniel Carter. Her recital opportunities have taken her throughout Australia, as well as New Zealand, Italy, Japan, and China.

Ayesha studied under Oleg Stepanov for 10 years, both at a pre-tertiary and tertiary level at the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University. It is this period of study to which she attributes the foundation of her pianistic values, both in terms of the school of piano passed on by her teacher, and the gradual encouragement by other lecturers to explore new mediums. Throughout 2018, she continued study in Italy with Boris Petrushansky at the Accademia Pianistica Internazionale “Incontri col Maestro”. In 2020 she graduated from the Royal College of Music, London, with a Masters with Distinction. At RCM she studied with Gordon Fergus-Thompson and Andrew Zolinsky whilst undertaking research concerned with pushing the boundaries of the piano recital. She will continue this avenue of research within a Doctorate commencing in 2022 at RCM.

She has been awarded the Theme and Variations Foundation Award, the Brisbane Club Award, the QCGU Postgraduate Prize, the Ena Williams Award, the Joyce Campbell Lloyd Scholarship, the Allison/Henderson Scholarship, and in early 2017 she participated in the Hamamatsu International Piano Academy. Ayesha has been supported by Variety, the Children’s Charity, of which she is an International Ambassador.

Q&A with Ayesha GoughAyesha Gough

1) When did you start playing the piano, and what made you realise that you’re going to be a pianist?  Do you play any other instruments?

I started playing piano at age 5 after insisting Santa Claus would bring me a piano for Christmas. It was a surprise to realise I’ve been playing for over 20 years now; it’s so intertwined with my life. I have briefly played other instruments but it was always the piano that stuck for me. I describe it as instinctual, in that I never consciously made the decision to be a pianist. What I do have control over now is deciding what kind of pianist I want to be, and that’s something I’ve only just begun to explore as I delve into alternate performance practice and research.

2) With very few opportunities for travel and performances, how have you spent your time during the last 20 months of COVID?

I have been teaching predominantly, using my spare time to fine-tune my research ideas that I’ll undertake when I return to the Royal College of Music, London, to complete a Doctorate. This fine-tuning has manifested in a variety of music videos containing my own improvisation, poetry, and visual media that I upload to my Instagram page @hysteria.ayesha. I intend to explore new ways of connecting with and delivering music to audiences in a post-Covid world.

3) You were the first-prize winner of the 2015 Les Vlassenko Piano Competition – what an amazing achievement.  Could you please tell us about your preparation leading up to the competition?

I also competed in the Lev Vlassenko Piano Competition in 2011 and 2013, reaching the finals each time, so by 2015 I was well-versed in how to prepare mentally and physically for such a competition. Of course, there was lots of practice involved, but I do feel that I was able to win the competition because I had a strong emotional connection and an aspect of storytelling with each piece. My familiarity with the competition format allowed me a certain level of freedom in that I felt more relaxed in exploring the depths of my repertoire. I had to spend a lot of time with my pieces and get to know them like people, and then I had to have practised enough so I felt comfortable presenting these people/pieces on stage – I suppose it was like talking with old friends, just in front of an audience!

4) The NRSO has been planning a concert with you in mind for many years, and we are absolutely delighted to have you join us at last (and thank you for living in New South Wales!)  We are looking forward to your performance of the beautiful Chopin Ballade No. 1.  What should the audience be listening out for?

I have been playing this piece for about 10 years now, and it has grown alongside me. In Chopin’s music, there is a sentiment only described as ‘zal’ – a Polish word that means something close to bittersweet melancholy. I sense zal very strongly in his Ballade No.1, and as my life is coloured with more and more emotional experiences, so too is my interpretation of this piece. There is homesickness in this music: Chopin left Poland at 20 and never returned. There is also sensual passion, revolution, and rage. Like the poetic form it is named after, the Ballade is a short story that doesn’t settle for too long in any one feeling, but it does linger in your memory.

5) Do you have any tips or words of wisdom for young piano students out there, especially when things get a bit tough?

I think the Classical Music world is headed for a bit of a transformation and young musicians can be at the forefront of this! The pandemic has shown us that we must begin to look to technology for transmission and connection. The established ways of performing – in traditional concert halls, with canonic repertoire, with typical performer/audience interaction – are not necessarily dying out; rather, we are finding new ways of celebrating our traditions as well as introducing alternate practices. Young musicians will have the freedom to individualise their musicianship. My advice is to step out of your comfort zone every once in a while: try new repertoire you’re not used to, don’t be afraid to engage on social media platforms like TikTok, break at least one rule in your concerts, and don’t feel like there is any merit to ideas of low and high art. Art is art.

Credits – Photographs of Ayesha Gough by Nick Morrissey