Interview with 2022 Bach Competition Winner Teresa Yang

With applications now open for the 2023 Bach Competition, we sat down with violinist Teresa Yang, last year’s winner of the Richard Mills Prize. We found out about her work with Paul Dean and the Queensland Youth Orchestra, plus her fond memories of the national music camp with AYO.

When did you start playing the violin?
I began learning the violin at age five. In fact, the tiny one-eight violin was a birthday gift, and it was on that day that I first started to ‘play’.

Why did you choose this instrument?
A large reason for choosing the violin was because a family friend of mine had been playing it. As my parents were not musicians themselves, it made it easier, to begin with, the help of a friend who already had some experience. Although I didn’t have a huge say originally on what instrument I would learn, I fell in love with the violin quickly, for its glorious, sweet sound, and its versatility, creating endless possibilities for nuance. I have never doubted once that the violin is the instrument for me!

What was it like to win the 2022 Bach Competition?
It was a great honour for me to travel from Sydney to Melbourne for the Bach Competition and to be able to perform in the incredible Melbourne Recital Centre. It’s a beautiful hall to even experience music in, let alone perform solo in, along with fellow lovers of Bach. I truly enjoyed the experience and learnt a lot from listening to the other finalists play, and for me, winning was a bonus!

What is your favourite Bach piece to play?
My favourite piece of Bach to play is Bach’s ‘Partita’ No.2 in B minor. It is not as well-known as most of the other Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin, yet I find its questioning mood and harmonies so moving every time I play it. Every piece that any musician learns can take so much time and effort to understand and capture its beauty – but I especially had difficulty with this Bach Partita. However, my teacher and I finally made it there, and it will always remind me of how super rewarding all the hard work is!

What do you enjoy about performing Bach?
Of course, the first thing I have to say I love about Bach is the beautiful, complex harmonies that he weaves into his music. When you know where to look, they tell such an interesting story and go to such unexpected places. When I play Bach, especially his solo works, I feel like everything is in my control at the moment – every slight rubato and voicing. On the stage, it feels like magic when I can tune into the audience’s mood and reactions, and intuitively do little, subtle things with Bach’s wondrous harmonies.

What has been your performance highlight so far?
One of my performance highlights so far would have to be my performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto with Paul Dean and the Queensland Youth Symphony last October. I loved the entire process of rehearsing and performing with such a great conductor and orchestra and really got a lot out of the experience. And plus, my E string broke in the middle of the concert! So that’s also a fun memory to take away from it.
Recently, I also had a wonderful time collaborating with incredible musicians I met at AYO’s National Music Camp. We worked on and performed Golijov’s Last Round, a very cool 21st-century work for string nonet, and it will always be a very special memory for me.

What piece are you working on now? And what do you like about it?
For the moment, I have been working on the Korngold Violin Concerto. It is more romantic than most mid-20th-century works, but still has the interesting harmonies and hidden melodies that I have been exploring. I especially love the second movement, which is so sublime, yet wistful.

What do you like to do outside of practising music?
I enjoy doing a lot of things, so I have to keep reminding myself to be selective, and not try to do everything! Outside of violin practice, I enjoy playing badminton – not only having fun in games but also pushing myself with the help of my supportive coach when I have the chance to train. I also love to go on runs, as well as spend time with family and friends, do maths, and read.

What are your musical aspirations for the future?
Personally, I can’t see myself doing anything apart from music in the future. When I was young, my dream was to become a soloist, much like Anne-Sophie Mutter, Maxim Vengerov and Hilary Hahn. And even though I’ve now realised it’s a lot harder to reach that goal than I previously thought, I still hold onto that hope, and try to aim high. My plan is just to keep practicing and see where life takes me!

Any advice for the 2023 Bach Competition applicants?
From my experience so far of playing Bach, I think the most important thing is to keep exploring. Bach’s music has so much to offer to you, and you can add your own creative ideas to his music too, to create a really engaging, meaningful rendition. You can zoom into each individual bar and even note to try to capture the mood or message it’s trying to convey, but also zoom out to give it structure and storyline. And when you are performing Bach, stay in the present and just enjoy the beautiful harmonies! I wish you luck, and whatever happens, keep going – believe in yourself!

Applications for the 2023 Bach Competition close on Wednesday 26 April 2023 11.59pm. Click here for more information.