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Interview with 2019 Great Romantics Winner Carol Wang

In the lead up to the 2020 Great Romantics Competition on Sunday 6 December, we sat down with bassoonist Carol Wang, last year’s winner of the Elisabeth Murdoch Prize.

We found out what the future holds for this talented musician, including a treasure hunt in Vienna.

Why did you choose your instrument?

I didn’t choose the instrument – it was actually my first bassoon teacher who chose me to study with him. In the primary school I was at in China there was a concert band that was always involved with a lot of activities (concerts and competitions etc). They often asked students if they were interested in learning an instrument and being a part of the band. I was in a music and performing focused kindergarten and played piano for a few years so my mum thought it wasn’t a bad idea to gain another hobby. I was also bigger than most of the kids in my year and able to hold a full size bassoon, so my teacher basically picked me straight away. To be honest, I didn’t like it at all until junior high, when I was accepted into a school which has a famous student orchestra, involving 120 students from grade 6 to grade 13. This school took the Orchestra activities very seriously. Then long story short, the day I sat down in my first orchestra rehearsal I was in love with the bassoon, and here I am, probably going to do it for the rest of my life.

Who are your musical heroes?

I don’t have any heroes, but I do have two bassoonists that I have admired for a number of years. One is my current teacher Lyndon Watts and another is Sergio Azzolini. I respect them very much as mentors and enjoy working alongside them. They are incredible musicians, and have inspired me to work on my own interpretations and expand my imagination. Knowing them also motivated me to work a bit harder, so I won’t disappointed them next time I play for them. Other than these two, I often enjoy listening to the Clarinetist Martin Fröst, Oboist Francois Leleux, Violinist Itzhak Perlman, Countertenor Phillppe Jaroussky, Pianist Stephen Kovacevich and Pianist Khatia Buniatishvili.

What does it feel like to play in the Elisabeth Murdoch hall at the Melbourne Recital Centre?

The Great Romantics Competition in 2019 was the first time I played in the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall as a soloist, so the stage felt a lot bigger than I remembered. I’ve always enjoyed playing in the Hall. It has a great acoustic and all the instruments’ voices sound so clear and pretty. It’s very calming to play in a hall that I like and am familiar with, especially for a big competition like Great Romantics.

What was it like to win the 2019 Great Romantics Competition?

I like competitions, because it gives me purpose to work towards something and I enjoy the preparation process the most. It’s short, intense and repetitive. After I played in the final, everything passed pretty fast. Whatever the result, it was out of my control so I basically stopped worrying about the competition and started thinking about what’s for dinner. Of course, when my name was announced as the winner, my blood pressure must have risen pretty high, but the next morning I had to go back to the practice room and start preparing for the next project.

What has been your performance highlight so far?

There are so many, but off the top of my head from 2019 is the tour at the beginning of the year with the Australian Chamber Orchestra collective lead by Violinist Pekka Kuusisto; ANAM orchestra performing Stravinsky’s ‘Petrouchka’ – the brass section sounded incredible; and Timothy Young’s Mozart Piano concerto no.21. I couldn’t stop smiling during the rehearsals. Tim’s playing is so enjoyable.

Where do you hope to take your music in the long term?

So far, apart from trying to become a better bassoonist and musician, I’m afraid I am not able to offer a better answer. But I am heading to Vienna this October and starting my Masters Degree at Vienna Conservatory so I guess that would be my first ‘treasure hunt’ in Europe. Hopefully in a few years’ time, I will be able to come back and provide a better answer.

What do you like to do outside of practicing music?

It might not be a regular hobby but I like to work as a part time sales person in a busy and popular clothing store. I like clothes and happen to be good at selling them and get also paid for it. As a hobby it really is a win-win-win. Another outdoor hobby would be travelling solo once or twice a year, really enjoy the freedom and meeting people from everywhere. Apart from that, I’m usually just a big indoor person, having a cup of tea while doing puzzles, watching some good TV shows or reading an interesting book.

Any advice for 2020 Great Romantics applicants?

First of all, choose a piece you love. I always believe if I don’t love a piece I can never truly bring out the best in it. Next, figure out exactly what you want to do with it, planning on the structure of the movements, breathing, phrasing and characters. And then, remember the piece and technique well enough, that if you wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning, you are able to pick up the instrument and play the concerto straight away. Make sure you have left enough days to play the entire piece repetitively at least 3-5 times a day, so you prepare yourself to have enough physical and mental energy during a high-pressure situation. Lastly, which probably should have been first, try to find the perfect accompanist. Their part is just as important as the soloists’. I personally think that you should have very little to worry about on competition day, if all the preparations are done beforehand. All that’s left to do is your best to convince the audience with your music in that short 15 minutes. Stress is unavoidable, but make sure to treat yourself after the competition finishes, no matter what the result is.

Click here to discover more about the 2020 Great Romantics Competition.