Backstage at the 2024 Gina Bachauer International Artists Competition: Meet the Quarterfinalists Part 4

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?

Jiaxin Min, 28 (China)

  1. Preferred ways to mentally prepare for performance: For me, food is my comfort zone. Whether I cook for myself or eat out, delicious food always brings me happiness and satisfaction. If I am too anxious and can’t calm down, I choose to clean my room, transforming my anxiety into motivation. A spotless and tidy living environment also brings me peace. If it’s a very important event, I also go to the temple to pray. The majestic statues and architecture give me strength, and the sound of the bells, along with the scent of temple incense, help me find peace.
  2. Most memorable performance: The most memorable performance for me was my first public performance when I was four. I participated in a children’s competition, and at the time, I had only been learning the piano for six months. During the preliminary round of the competition, I performed a sonata. My performance was interrupted by the judges halfway through. I thought it was because I had played terribly, so I felt very sad. My mom even thought the judges were unfair because they didn’t let me finish the piece. Eventually, we found out that it was because the preliminary round didn’t require a complete performance, and the judges stopped me only because the sonata had reached the recapitulation part. In the end, I won second place in that competition.
  3. Other types of music they enjoy: I am very interested in unique musical instruments, such as the tongue drum, kalimba, kora, and theremin. I often look for playlists of these instruments on YouTube to listen to. I also enjoy Japanese city pop from the 1980s, as well as the vaporwave genre it inspired.
  4. Advice for aspiring pianists: I don’t have any specific advice for the younger generation of pianists because I believe everyone’s artistic journey is unique. What works for me might not work for everyone. I just want to wish every dedicated musician the best in achieving their desired outcomes.

Ziyuan Qu, 23 (China)

  1. Preferred ways to mentally prepare for performance: I go to the gym and do some exercises. I always think about my piece when I am doing exercises.
  2. Most memorable performance: I think it was my first recital when I was 10 years old. I didn’t start my professional training and I was playing in a coffee shop. I really enjoyed that moment.
  3. Other types of music they enjoy: I always listen to folk music and sometimes pop music.
  4. Advice for aspiring pianists: Enjoy every moment when you practice!

Virgile Roche, 26 (France)

  1. Preferred ways to mentally prepare for performance: I try as much as possible to consider a competition round like a normal concert performance. It helps a lot for limiting the pressure and the stress on stage. Also, before playing a programme for an audience (or a jury), I play it a few times for musician friends to get advice, and I do a lot of self-recordings that I listen to afterwards. It’s important to get experience on the repertoire, and to make moments happen, when you can really pretend that you’re on stage (even if you’re not yet), in order to get used to it!
  2. Most memorable performance: It’s hard to choose one performance over all. I think the best concert of my life was in Lamezia Terme, Italy. The concert in itself, musically, wasn’t very interesting. But it was the very last of a long tour within a piano trio that I was about to leave after 7 years, due to countless human and artistic issues. I wish everyone to feel one day the extreme joy and relief that I felt then, to be finally liberated from this toxic environment. If we strictly speak about the music and the moment on stage, I would choose the final concert of a festival I organized in my hometown Saint-Flour two years ago, with works including Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D sharp major (2d book), Debussy’s Fêtes Galantes, and Crumb’s Vox Balenae for flute, cello and piano. The emotion that night was incredible.
  3. Other types of music they enjoy: I already have classical piano music in my ears all day, so that’s probably the last thing I will listen to during my free time. I’ll probably rather go for symphonic music, baroque music on period instruments, string quartet recordings. And outside of western classical music, I’m very fond of jazz.
  4. Advice for aspiring pianists:  Don’t stay stuck in your piano. No matter how hard you practice, thousands of people will play the piano as well as you (and even better). You have to find something personal to say, and to do so I think you need to play with other instruments, to go to as many concerts, exhibitions, artistic performances as you can, to read a lot, to learn about other cultures and languages. Without curiosity, piano playing isn’t very interesting in my opinion.

Hyojin Shin, 27 (Korea)

  1. Preferred ways to mentally prepare for performance:  I like to go for a walk and immerse myself in nature during the preparation for performances or competitions. The preparation requires a lot of energy and can be quite stressful. To manage this, I step away from the practice room and spend time in nature, which gives me moments to breathe and get inspired as well. I especially enjoy sitting on a bench or the grass, taking in the natural surroundings and letting my thoughts drift toward music. Often, as I observe the beauty of nature around me, I find inspiration, imagining how to express the colors of the leaves or the sky on the piano, how to translate the natural movements into my music, and so on. These moments of connection between nature and music are truly inspiring and help me mentally prepare for performances.
  2. Most memorable performance: The most memorable performance for me was with the Yale Philharmonia in January 2024 at Woolsey Hall in New Haven, which I consider my second hometown. Every performance has given me special feelings, inspiring me to pursue a musician’s life and perform in new venues for diverse audiences. However, this concert was particularly special because it allowed me to look back on my previous years and see my growth as a musician. Also, as a student, I could only enter the hall for public concerts. Years later, standing on that stage and seeing the audience there to support me was incredibly moving. The audience and the musicians I worked with were wonderfully supportive. I thoroughly enjoyed performing for over 2,000 people, and the experience still fills me with a thrilling and heartwarming feeling.
  3. Other types of music they enjoy: Among classical music, I enjoy listening to violin pieces the most, aside from piano repertoire. The violin has a charm that’s quite different from the piano. In other genres, I like cozy jazz, which I often play while working or doing household chores. This music helps me feel comfortable and in a good mood.
  4. Advice for aspiring pianists: If you are ready to be consistent, embrace your life as a musician, and love music, you will always find answers, overcome challenges, and make beautiful music!

Ilya Shmukler, 29 (Russia/Israel)

  1. Preferred ways to mentally prepare for performance: Playing the piece not using a piano.
  2. Most memorable performance:  Performance where everything matched. I immersed myself into music and was above it at the same time. Acoustics were great, the piano was wonderful, and the listeners were very responsive.
  3. Other types of music they enjoy: Classical music only.
  4. Advice for aspiring pianists: These pianists have to love what they are doing. This is the mainest thing.

Youl Sun, 23 (Korea)

  1. Preferred ways to mentally prepare for performance:  I make sure to take time for walks and rest. When I get stuck in practice, I go outside and sit, rest, or take a walk
  2. Most memorable performance:  I have a deep memory of performing Prokofiev‘s concerto last year in Seoul. I remember being very nervous because it was my first collaboration with a large orchestra, but I really enjoyed the performance.
  3. Other types of music they enjoy: I mainly listen to classical music, but occasionally I also listen to K-pop.
  4. Advice for aspiring pianists: Although there are many difficulties, I hope they are happy and joyful.

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