Backstage at the 2024 Gina Bachauer International Artists Competition: Meet the Quarterfinalists Part 3

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?

For more details, see The Utah Review preview of the competition.

Carter Johnson, 27 (Canada/USA)

  1. Preferred ways to mentally prepare for performance: On the day of performance, I have no routine other than needing to be kept occupied at all times! I like to practice right up until I have to go on stage, but if that’s not possible, then I like to get ready at the last minute (doing my hair, etc) or else madly texting my wife, or literally anything other than standing and waiting so that I don’t have the opportunity to get nervous. I like to eat just a little but not too much, and hopefully something fresh and delicious, nothing too greasy. If I am traveling on the day of performance (taking a train, walking etc) I always need to have music playing, and preferably something non-classical — certainly not the music I am performing that day. Lately, I have been listening to the music of Alice Coltrane on the day of performance which I think is completely magical and takes me out of the stressful competition/performance mindset.
  2. Most memorable performance: When I performed Träumerei (by Schumann) last year at the funeral of my grandmother.
  3. Other types of music they enjoy: Other than solo piano repertoire, in terms of classical music I am very fond of the art song repertory, particularly German. Actually, I am obsessed with almost everything the German composers wrote, from string quartets to symphonies and everything else. I am a huge fan of Olivier Messiaen and have listened to his Turangalîla-Symphonie probably over a hundred times since I was a teenager. I have a special interest in the music of Francis Poulenc and I *think* I have listened to everything he has written at least a couple of times. In terms of non-classical music, my tastes over the past few years have broadened a great deal. I listen to a lot of jazz, which my wife and sons also love, both very traditional and very progressive. I have grown attached to a lot of pop artists including Björk and Kate Bush, of whom I am big fans, as well as progressive rock artists such as the krautrock band Can and the more recent singer PJ Harvey. Another musician who has been a big influence on me is Brian Eno (all the way from his earliest works to his most recent), who I have had great pleasure in getting to know only this past year.
  4. Advice for aspiring pianists: The most important quality in a musician is *curiosity*. (Also, remember to practice slowly…!)

Fumiya Koido, 28 (Japan)

  1. Preferred ways to mentally prepare for performance: Before my performance, I always take some of the same actions for my mental. For example, take a bath in the morning, drink water, don’t eat, walk around, and brush my teeth.
  2. Most memorable performance: It was March 11, the same day as the Great East Japan Earthquake, the biggest turning point in my life. I offered a silent prayer and went on stage. It was an unforgettable concert.
  3. Other types of music they enjoy: Sometimes I listen to jazz. My favorite one is Chet Baker.
  4. Advice for aspiring pianists: The most important thing is to think, and keep doing it.

Seonghyeon Leem, 31 (Korea)

  1. Preferred ways to mentally prepare for performance: Not only for performance or competition, also for my life in general, I always make elastic resistance band exercise and stretching at least three to four times a day, wherever I am, to strengthen inner muscles and to make them relaxed. I try to find silence and peace in myself, with a way of breathing in the mood of meditation. I believe it is important to make a good connection between my body and soul, especially when I play which shows my heart and soul. This physical activity helps to have such a connection between my body and soul.
  2. Most memorable performance: A recent experience remains impressive. About one and a half years ago, during performance on the stage, I discovered a significantly new way of expression from showing my soul, and also from receiving the audience’s reaction and their heart in different ways. And then recently, I went back to the same stage to perform. Words cannot describe how comfortable and relaxed I felt on the stage. Incredible moments were created naturally to be experienced in music. Another memorable performance was about 6 years ago, when I had to prepare a completely new piece to play with the orchestra within 10 days as a substitute. I experienced having an enormous amount of energy in a short time, learned a lot about how to treat and manage between motivation, pressure and responsibility.
  3. Other types of music they enjoy: I enjoy listening to music, regardless of types. Particularly, there are works for orchestra and jazz.
  4. Advice for aspiring pianists: Regardless of making a career, we need to regard sincerity in music always first. The right direction will lead us down the right path.

TianYi Li, 26(China)

  1. Preferred ways to mentally prepare for performance: I often try to think through the structure of each composition, or even of entire programs in my head. This helps me decide the overall shape of the music by constructing a play-like flow, with different acts and scenes. I find this exercise very useful for boosting my confidence. I also try to think of positive messages for myself, which often involves reminding myself that a performance is more than pure pursuit of perfection, and that what matter is building a connection with the audience and creating beautiful moments.
  2. Most memorable performance: At the start of the pandemic, a lot of my friends found solace in the extra time for practicing and repertoire expansion. However, I was caught off guard by the sudden influx of coursework from starting a doctoral program, and the inability to perform in-person. This caused a slump in my life that lasted for about two years, when I felt unmotivated and uninspired. In 2022, I attended my first ever music festival, and through the help of mentors and friends, I was able to start regaining confidence and embark on a new artistic journey. My performance of Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme of Corelli at the festival was a turning point, and even though it might not be my best or most important performance, it is the most memorable and uplifting one so far.
  3. Other types of music they enjoy:  I enjoy listening to and playing jazz, with my favorites among the classics being John Coltrane and Bill Evans, and Cory Henry and Jacob Collier from the newer generation. On the popular spectrum, I listen to J-Pop (Yoasobi, Mili), Chinese Rock, Metal (DragonForce and Sabaton), and various EDM artists. I also periodically check out the charts to try and keep up with the current trend of pop music. For classical music outside the piano, I enjoy going to the Metropolitan Opera (The Hours was a recent favorite of mine), as well as listening to orchestral repertoire.
  4. Advice for aspiring pianists: Listen to lots and lots of recordings, and not just polished modern recordings either. There’s so much to learn from pianists throughout the 20th century, and with the internet, we have near unlimited and instant access to a huge catalogue of recordings.

Xiaoxuan Li, 23 (China)

  1. Preferred ways to mentally prepare for performance: Meditation
  2. Most memorable performance: 2021 in Warsaw
  3. Other types of music they enjoy: Some Chinese pop music
  4. Advice for aspiring pianists: Schubert Piano Sonata D960.

Jonathan Mak, 27 (Canada)

  1. Preferred ways to mentally prepare for performance: I like to watch sports games (basketball and hockey), and read about how athletes prepare physically and mentally for a big upcoming game. Watching others in a different competitive environment is very interesting and there are a lot of qualities that I try to relate to my own experiences.
  2. Most memorable performance: My most memorable performance would be my first ever Brahms Piano Concerto no.1 with orchestra. I had the opportunity to perform it with the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal in Montreal, and it was especially meaningful being back in my home country and performing for family and friends.
  3. Other types of music they enjoy: I like to listen to a variety of music such as hip hop, jazz, and big band. I believe it is important to branch out and get some influences from other genre, as well as stay on top of current trends in music.
  4. Advice for aspiring pianists: Approach everything with an open and inviting mind. Play for friends and colleagues, especially musicians who are non-pianists – they always have new/fresh perspectives of listening to things!

Yupeng Mei, 30 (China).

  1. Preferred ways to mentally prepare for performance: Relaxation.
  2. Most memorable performance: Performance in Chopin Competition in Warsaw
  3. Other types of music they enjoy: No other types
  4. Advice for aspiring pianists: Just work hard.

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