Now in its ninth year, Melbourne Recital Centre’s Bach Competition is dedicated to young musicians passionate about J.S. Bach.
We sat down with the 2017 winner Grace Wu to talk about her Bach Competition experience, if she has any advice for 2018 participants, and to discover what the future holds for one of Australia’s most talented young musicians.
When and why did you start playing violin?
I started learning the violin just before I turned six, so up to now it’s been about eight years. Before that I learnt a little bit of piano from my sister. My family originally thought I would play piano, but when it came down to starting lessons, my mum decided on violin for me as we already had a pianist in the house and she knew she wouldn’t be able to stand the racket of two. Personally, I didn’t really mind what I learnt, but I was more curious about the violin since I had already seen my sister learn and practice the piano.
How did it feel to play in the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall at the Melbourne Recital Centre?
I don’t know if I can put it into words, but the purity and reach of the sound that I produced really shocked me. A fascinating thing about the hall that I found during my soundcheck is that when you play, you get the sense that almost everyone in the world is listening, even if there’s no one in the audience. Of course, with the audience there, the feeling is stronger, but I think that the sensation has something more to do with the stunning acoustics of the hall than anything. The most wonderful thing about the hall, to me, is that when you perform solo Bach there you enjoy the pure sound so much that you kind of forget that there’s an audience because you’re so into the music. While interacting with the audience is also important, I feel like the more internal expressions really shine through and wrap around you in those moments.
What was it like to win the 2017 Bach Competition?
After my performance, I was so busy wandering around in a daze and blabbering about my feelings to my mother that I completely forgot about prizes and such. It’s pretty funny, but I didn’t actually realise that I’d won until I got off the stage and one of the ladies of the backstage crew congratulated me on my win. I’m pretty sure my brain ground to a complete and utter halt at that moment. Then this huge wave of realisation crashed down onto me and I was so surprised! – but also really glad that the judges enjoyed my performance.
Besides the Bach Competition, what has been your performance highlight so far?
This performance opportunity actually came because I participated in the Bach Competition, and was also at Elisabeth Murdoch Hall. I performed two movements of accompanied Bach during the judges deliberation at the Great Romantics Competition 2018.
What is your favourite Bach piece to play?
I’m legitimately internally tormented and also laughing at myself every time someone hits me with a ‘what is your favourite’ question. Out of all the pieces by Bach that I’ve played I really can’t pick a favourite – the consistent but fresh style as well as the various twists and turns that Bach throws at you (most of the time, gently) always keeps it interesting. They’re all lovely.
What can you tell us about Bach?
The style of Bach’s pieces, to me, are about personal expressions (or expressions between a duo). His compositions are constantly interesting and intriguing, and the harmonies always hit the sweet spot in your ears.
What piece are you working on now? And what do you like about it?
I’ve just started learning the first movement of the Paganini violin concerto no. 1 op. 6. It’s a great challenge, and a beautiful piece. I really enjoy the lyrical passages, the intense opening, and the general virtuosity of the whole thing.
What do you like to do outside of practicing music?
I listen to a lot of music, and try to have my earphones on me all the time. When they’re not and I’m just sitting around, I’m filled with regret while desperately trying to playback pieces or songs in my head. Sometimes it works. Mostly it doesn’t. I love drawing, and although I’m not very good I try to practice when I can. I also love reading, especially fantasy books.
Any advice for 2018 Bach Competition Applicants?
This sounds completely overused, but enjoy the music! When you record your videos, have fun and play the best you can, and I’m sure your feelings will touch your audience!! If you get to play in the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall, you’ll really love it.
Registrations are open for the 2018 Bach Competition. Click here to discover more.
You can also see Grace perform movements from Bach’s Sonata No.1 in G minor for solo violin BWV 1002 as part of The Genius of J.S. Bach on Saturday 16 June.