In the lead up to the 2018 Great Romantics Competition on September 23, we sat down with duo Kyla Matsuura-Miller (violin) and Adam McMillan (piano), last year’s winners of the Elisabeth Murdoch Prize. We found out how it all began, and what audiences can expect from the duo in the future – especially their November 19 performance in the Salon.
When did you start playing together?
We first met during an inter-school orchestral program all the way back in our high school days in Brisbane. Adam was also playing violin at this point! However, we only started playing together during our undergraduate studies at Queensland Conservatorium. Although we began by just mucking around in the practice room together, we had our first proper performance in one of Adam’s exam-recitals playing Mozart K454.
Whose idea was it?
The idea to play together seriously was partly a mutual one but we were also encouraged by our respective teachers at QCGU at the time (Michele Walsh and Jenni Flemming).
Why did you choose your respective instruments?
Adam: When I was young, we had an upright piano at home, and Mum was having lessons at the time. I remember watching her practice with great curiosity and was very interested to play myself. I was also given a toy keyboard for my third birthday and apparently became a bit obsessed!
Kyla: I originally saw the harp being played in the NHK Symphony in Japan… I thought it was a violin — very disappointed when presented with one. Despite initial confusion, I have persevered.
What does it feel like to play in the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall at the Melbourne Recital Centre?
It’s a beautiful space, with a great feeling of clarity and intimacy, and just the right amount of reverberance. There’s a sense of being able to communicate directly with the listener, from the softest whispers to the most frenzied climaxes.
What was it like to win the 2017 Great Romantics Competition?
Thrilling! It gave us a sense that we’re on the right track, and means that we feel confident in continuing to play together throughout our careers. We were amongst such brilliant musicians in the competition that we feel incredibly grateful to be the ones selected.
What has been your performance highlight as a duo so far?
We loved playing together in the Peninsula Summer Music Festival in January. It was a beautiful, intimate setting to share some Bach, Healey, and Strauss.
What pieces are you working on now? Most challenging aspects?
We are working on the Beethoven Spring Sonata, and continuing to refine the Strauss Sonata. Beethoven’s challenges are balancing a still quite classical aesthetic with the warmth and romanticism of his developing language. Strauss is challenging for its intricacy of passagework and colouration, especially the second movement with its crystalline figurations in both piano and violin.
As part of winning the Great Romantics Competition, you have the opportunity to perform in your own Salon recital. What can audiences expect from your November 19 performance?
Audiences can expect a concert of great warmth. Through Beethoven and Strauss we wish to share an experience of honest musical conversation between each other and the listener. We think the intimacy of a venue like the Salon makes this perfect.
What do you like to do outside of practicing music?
Adam: I like to explore different parts of Melbourne, catch up on a good Netflix series, drink coffee, and I am currently learning Italian.
Kyla: I am definitely a phase person. Reading phase, guitar phase, DJ phase. Currently going through a practise phase which is pretty good.
Any advice for 2018 Great Romantics applicants?
To be proud of your hard work whether you succeed or not, to savour the experience of getting to play repertoire that you are passionate about in such a beautiful space, and to just share your music in the most honest way you can (and then hope for the best)!
Applications for the Great Romantics Competition close on Wednesday 15 August 2018 at midnight. Click here for competition guidelines and entry.
You can also book now to see Kyla and Adam in recital on November 19. Click here to discover more.