Its been four years since I've visited Sydney. The last occasion was for the Sydney International Piano Competition of Australia (SIPCA for short), spectacularly won by the 18-year-old Malaysia-born New Zealander John Chen (pictured left) who held off the challenge from the Russians and participants much older than himself. He gave a performance of Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto with the Sydney Symphony in the Grand Final which brought out certain spiritual qualities and a dimension which I never thought existed.
Also equally unforgettable was his semi-final reading of Ravel's Piano Trio in A minor, performed completely from memory, which left all his rivals in his wake. Such joie de vivre from someone this young seemed incredulous at that time.
Since then, he has performed at the Singapore International Piano Festival 2006, the youngest pianist ever to grace that stage, giving the Singapore premieres of the Dutilleux Sonate and Debussy's final work, Le soirs illumines par l'ardeur du charbon. His recording of Dutilleux's complete piano works on Naxos was also a great success - I loved it.
The only blot: he hasn't won a major competition since 2004, having not passed through the opening rounds of the Tchaikovsky (Moscow), Arthur Rubinstein (Tel Aviv) and Cleveland competitions. This is a mystery to me, just like Michael Chang's triumph in the French Open 1989, was not followed up with a similar Grand Slam tournament success. Beginner's luck? No, perhaps John is too much of a musician to allow the gladiatorial aspects of piano playing cloud his musicianship. I really look forward to his recital that opens SIPCA 2008 - Mozart, Ravel, Dutilleux and Brahms. I can hardly wait!