Backstage at the 2024 Gina Bachauer International Artists Competition: Meet the Quarterfinalists Part 2

EDITOR’S NOTE: Each day this week, The Utah Review will provide short profiles, featuring the 33 quarterfinalists for the 2024 Gina Bachauer International Artists Competition. Afternoon and evening sessions begin Monday, June 17. For tickets and more information, see the Bachauer website.

The Utah Review asked each pianist to answer four questions: 

1. In addition to practicing, how do you mentally prepare or have other rituals (e.g., meditation, stress relieving activities) for either performances in general or competitions such as Bachauer?

2. What has been your most memorable performance so far in your career?

3. Besides the vast catalog of piano works, what other types of music do you enjoy in your spare time?

4. For younger pianists who aspire to careers and experiences such as you have enjoyed, what is one piece of advice you would encourage?

Nicolas Giacomelli, 25 (Italy)

  1. Preferred ways to mentally prepare for performance: I like to do activities that allow me not to think about what I’m going to play, in order to get completely distracted and thus being able to get very focused again when I practice or play in concert. This includes especially doing sports (like running or going to the gym) and reading.
  2. Most memorable performance: It was one concert I did in 2013, and it was one of my first concerts with an orchestra. I played Beethoven’s 3rd Piano Concerto in the main theatre of my hometown (Teatro Manzoni, Bologna). I’ve played in more important venues in the following years but that specific concert is probably the one I have more memories about. Not only was it the most important concert I had ever done at the time, but a lot of my friends were playing in the orchestra and it was in my hometown and the hall was full, so for me the atmosphere was really something unique.
  3. Other types of music they enjoy: Unfortunately the piano solo repertoire takes a lot of time to practice. I enjoy playing some chamber music, especially when I have played in a cello duo.
  4. Advice for aspiring pianists: It is very difficult to answer this question as, I think, every pianist is different and there is not one piece of advice that is going to work for anyone. The only thing I can suggest is to try to understand what you want to say as a musician and don’t feel forced to follow someone else’s path or ideas.

Giuseppe Guarrera, 32 (Italy)

  1. Preferred ways to mentally prepare for performance:  I try to practice martial arts and mediation, improvise and conduct.
  2. Most memorable performance: Once in my living room, playing for a few friends. For mysterious reasons it was a magical performance.
  3. Other types of music they enjoy: Jazz
  4. Advice for aspiring pianists: To keep focusing on music, to find a great teacher and stay with them for as long as possible and to study composition

Nabeel Hayek, 22 (Israel)

  1. Preferred ways to mentally prepare for performance: To mentally prepare for performances or competitions, I incorporate several strategies alongside regular practice. I take short breaks every 2 to 3 hours to prevent mental fatigue, often going for short walks during these breaks to reduce stress and improve my mood through physical activity. Preparing and enjoying a cup of coffee serves as a calming ritual and provides a gentle energy boost. Additionally, I engage in reading to temporarily divert my mind from music, preventing burnout and stimulating new ideas by exposing me to different perspectives. By integrating these activities into my routine, I maintain a balanced approach that keeps me both mentally and physically ready for any challenge.
  2. Most memorable performance: I will never forget my first time performing a complete concerto with an orchestra. At 15 years old, having just won a national competition, I had the opportunity to play one of my favorite concertos, Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor, Opus 54, with the Jerusalem Symphony. This performance is particularly memorable to me because that night a dream came true. Surprisingly, I wasn’t stressed at all but rather enjoyed every second of it. The concerto showcases Schumann’s vocal qualities as an art song composer and feels almost like chamber music with its intricate wind solos, the moving cello section in the second movement, and the dialogues between the piano and orchestra.
  3. Other types of music they enjoy: Lately, I’ve been particularly drawn to symphonic music, immersing myself in the profound works of Gustav Mahler, especially his symphonies and orchestral songs like “Das Lied von der Erde.” The emotional depth and complexity of Mahler’s work resonate deeply with me. Similarly, Richard Strauss’s “Four Last Songs” captivates me with their poignant beauty. And of course, Beethoven’s late string quartets hold a special place in my heart, each one a testament to his genius and artistic evolution. Beyond these classical masterpieces, I also enjoy exploring contemporary composers and other genres that expand my musical horizons.
  4. Advice for aspiring pianists: My advice is to nurture a deep passion for the music you play. Technique and skill are vital, but it’s the emotional connection and interpretation that truly captivate audiences. Dive into each piece’s depths, understanding its context, composer’s intentions, and emotions. Express your unique voice through the music, and let your love for the piano and music in general guide you towards excellence and fulfillment in your career.

Curtis Phill Hsu, 19 (USA/Taiwan)

  1. Preferred ways to mentally prepare for performance: Eat well and sleep very well. I have no special kind of preparation. Enjoy traveling and experiencing the various wonderful concert halls and audiences around the world.
  2. Most memorable performance: I would say the performance I did with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in March this year.
  3. Other types of music they enjoy: Pop music, K-pop, Rap, Orchestral works.
  4. Advice for aspiring pianists: First you do it, then you listen. Not the other way around.

Martin Jacobs, 31 (USA)

  1. Preferred ways to mentally prepare for performance: I have been exercising regularly – I feel the stamina required to play the large program for Bachauer is quite physical, but also helps clear my head and feel positive!
  2. Most memorable performance: The first time I heard Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 2, I was blown away. The rawness and sheer size of it was unlike anything I’d ever heard before. I decided this was a piece I would have to one day play. 6 years after that, as the first piece I ever got to play with an orchestra, I got my chance. There’s no feeling quite like finishing the first movement cadenza and having the orchestral entrance lift you even higher.
  3. Other types of music they enjoy:  I’ve enjoyed movie soundtracks, oldies that my parents listened to, but mostly podcasts about baseball and biking!
  4. Advice for aspiring pianists: Playing piano should enrich your life, and taking steps to make sure it remains a positive presence is important and worthwhile. Sometimes that can mean taking a day off from practicing. Sometimes a week or a month! And sometimes it can mean making the choices in repertoire and musicality that speak most to you and feel the most authentic.

Yunkeon Ji, 22 (Korea)

  1. Preferred ways to mentally prepare for performance: I take a walk with my dog. Taking a walk helps organize my thoughts and reduces stress
  2. Most memorable performance: It was during the Shinhan Music Competition in 2018. Since then, my hands started trembling and I couldn’t control it on the stage. I was so scared. So I left everything to God and played with my eyes closed. Thankfully, the result came out well, so it was a memorable performance
  3. Other types of music they enjoy: I like piano music the most, but sometimes I listen to symphonies. My favorite one is Beethoven No. 4
  4. Advice for aspiring pianists: Music seems to be the happiest when I do it as a hobby. This is because you can enjoy it purely without complicated thoughts even if your expertise is a little inferior. But if you want to be a performer, keep the passion you have for a long time.

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